Australia joins ASAT test ban, raising like-minded countries to eight 

by

SEOUL, South Korea —Australia has pledged not to conduct direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile testing, throwing its weight behind the U.S.-driven initiative launched in April to promote the peaceful and safe use of outer space. 

Australia’s pledge comes about three weeks after the United Kingdom and South Korea joined the initiative, raising the number of like-minded countries to eight. Japan and Germany joined the campaign in mid-September, New Zealand in July and Canada in May. And more countries are expected to join as the U.S. ramps up efforts to promote the ban.

Penny Wong, Australia’s foreign minister. Credit: The Ministry for Foreign Affairs

“The Australian Government commits to never conduct destructive, direct-ascent antisatellite missile testing, consistent with our role as a responsible actor in space,” said the country’s foreign minister Penny Wong, defense minister Richard Marles and industry and science minister Ed Husic in an Oct. 27 joint statement. “The use of these missiles to destroy space objects is reckless, irresponsible and poses threats to space assets of all nations.”

They called on “all nations” to join the initiative as a “transparency and confidence-building measure.” 

This announcement came one day after a ranking Russian diplomat reiterated previous declarations at a United Nations meeting that Russia could target private space networks that assist military operations against Russia. Konstantin Vorontsov, deputy director of the Russian foreign ministry’s department for non-proliferation and arms, called the West’s use of commercial satellites “an extremely dangerous trend that … has become apparent during the latest developments in Ukraine.” He noted that such assistance constitutes “indirect participation” in military conflicts, adding “quasi-civilian infrastructure may become a legitimate target for retaliation.” Although the diplomat did not mention Starlink by name in the speech, the SpaceX internet satellite network has served as a communications lifeline for Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the three Australian ministers expressed support for the United Nations open-ended working group on reducing space threats working on setting norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviors in space. 

“The global community must work together to build a common understanding on rules and norms that can guide how states behave in outer space,” the foreign minister said in the statement. “This commitment to responsible behaviour, helps build a meaningful framework that contributes to the security, safety and sustainability of outer space.” The working group, established by a U.K.-sponsored resolution in December last year, had its second session in September and will conclude its work in August 2023.