India’s space agency (ISRO) launched a missile at their own satellite, Microstat-R, in an orbit below 300km in an anti-satellite test.
NASA’s Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the U.S. had identified 400 pieces of debris from the test and that 24 pieces of debris are known to have landed in orbits above the ISS, which orbits at about 410 km in altitude.
Bridenstein remarked of the test, “That is a terrible, terrible thing, to create an event that sends debris into an apogee that goes above the International Space Station. And that kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human spaceflight.”
“It’s unacceptable, and NASA needs to be very clear about what its impact to us is,” he continued.
NASA and the military’s Combined Space Operations Center concluded that the risk of debris impacting the station had increased by 44 percent over a 10-day period.
Bridenstine emphasized, “While the risk went up 44 percent, our astronauts are still safe. The International Space Station is still safe…if we need to maneuver it, we will. The probability of that, I think, is low.”
He went on to express his concern over the precedent India’s space agency may be setting for other countries.
It is clear that greater awareness is necessary of the impact of space debris on the operability of our communications satellites and on the safety of the ISS and its crew.
Increased international agreement about and regulation of the generation of space debris by nations and private companies, coupled with an increase in efforts to clean up existing space debris, could lead to clearer, safer orbital paths for vessels and astronauts and a decrease in the amount of time and money wasted in tracking orbital debris.