US Vice President Kamala Harris has said the US will no longer conduct anti-satellite missile tests, calling them “dangerous” and “reckless” in a recent pledge for space safety.
Such tests have been conducted by multiple other nations, including Russia, China, and India, plus the US themselves against their own satellites, though the uncontrolled destruction results in significant space debris.
Now, the US calls on other nations to follow suit and no longer conduct these tests.
"Simply put, these tests are dangerous, and we will not conduct them," said Harris at a speech at the Vandenberg Space Force base.
The US previously conducted anti-satellite missile tests in 2008, with a modified SM-3 missile destroying a malfunctioning reconnaissance satellite. More recently, Russia conducted a similar test against a Soviet-era satellite. This resulted in a cloud of shrapnel directly in the path of the ISS, causing astronauts aboard to shelter. The US condemned the act, though Russia responded by calling the US “hypocritical".
“Russia has demonstrated a deliberate disregard for the security, safety, stability, and long-term sustainability of the space domain for all nations,” U.S. Space Command Commander James Dickinson said in a statement, reports CNBC.
The most recent statement by Vice President Harris states the administration is committed to ending these tests and calls on other nations to enact a total ban on future anti-satellite tests to ensure the safety of low-orbit satellites.
"This debris presents a risk to the safety of our astronauts, our satellites, and our growing commercial presence," said Harris in the speech.
"A piece of space debris the size of a basketball, which travels at thousands of miles per hour, would destroy a satellite. Even a piece of debris as small as a grain of sand could cause serious damage."
Space junk is becoming an increasing problem as more and more commercial satellites are launched into orbit.
Around 27,000 pieces of large debris are constantly monitored by the Department of Defense’s global Space Surveillance Network (SSN), though there are significantly more that are too small to be accurately tracked. Of these, 23,000 are larger than a softball and orbit Earth at incredible speeds, posing distinct threats to both satellites and crewed space stations like the ISS.
Multiple efforts are now being implemented to attempt to limit the production of space junk, though such efforts would require global cooperation. A ban on anti-satellite missiles may go some way to alleviate junk production if the missiles were to become regularly used, though this is not the case at present.