Russia May Have Just Shot Down Its Own Satellite, Creating a Huge Debris Cloud

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The seven astronauts and cosmonauts onboard the International Space Station sheltered inside their respective spacecraft, a Crew Dragon and Soyuz, on Monday morning as the orbiting laboratory passed through an unexpected debris field. This was not a pre-planned collision avoidance maneuver in low Earth orbit, in which the station would use onboard propulsion to move away. Rather, the situation required the astronauts to quickly take shelter. Had there been a collision during the conjunction, the two spacecraft would have been able to detach from the space station and make an emergency return to Earth. Ultimately that was not necessary, and the astronauts reemerged into the space station later Monday. However, as the crew on board the station prepared for their sleep schedule, Mission Control in Houston asked them to keep as many of the hatches onboard the space station closed for the time being, in case of an unexpected collision during subsequent orbits. It appears likely that the debris field that had alarmed flight controllers on Monday was caused by an anti-satellite test performed by Russia's military early on Monday. [...] It appears that Russia launched a surface-to-space Nudol missile on Monday, between 02:00 and 05:00 UTC, from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the northern part of the country. The missile then struck an older satellite, Cosmos 1408. Launched in 1982, the satellite had been slowly losing altitude and was a little more than 450 km above the Earth. This is a large satellite, with a mass of about 2,000 kg. As of Monday afternoon, US Space Command said it was already tracking more than 1,000 pieces of new debris. Although the satellite's altitude is higher than the International Space Station, which is about 400 km above the surface, a kinetic impact would spread a large cloud of debris. Satellite expert Jonathan McDowell believes the Cosmos 1408 satellite is the likely candidate for the space station's ongoing debris event. During a daily briefing today, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price said the test had created more than 1,500 pieces of trackable debris and hundreds of thousands of pieces of un-trackable debris. "The Russian Federation recklessly conducted a destructive satellite test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile against one of its own satellites," Price said. "This test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station as well as to other human spaceflight activities. Russia's dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of outer space."

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