On Nov. 15, 2021, Russia conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) test in low Earth orbit, where an interceptor of the Nudol ground-based ASAT system was used to destroy one of Russia’s own derelict satellites, Cosmos-1408. The satellite was at an orbit of about 480 kilometers in altitude; the interception created at least 1500 pieces of trackable debris. This debris field will expand in size and spread in a ring around the Earth that will likely remain on orbit to threaten other space objects for years to come. Regardless of rationale, to deliberately create orbital debris of this magnitude is extremely irresponsible. Orbital debris poses an indiscriminate risk to everyone’s satellites in orbit, endangering critical space-based services we all rely on, as well as the human lives on the International Space Station and China’s Tiangong Space Station.

This is not the first time a country has tested an antisatellite weapon and created debris on orbit; we detail three previous cases by the United States, China, and India in our report, Global Counterspace Capabilities: An Open Source Assessment.  We call upon the United States, Russia, China, and India to declare unilateral moratoriums on further testing of their antisatellite weapons that could create additional orbital debris and to work with other countries towards solidifying an international ban on destructive ASAT testing. The continued testing or demonstration of antisatellite capabilities, including the targeting of one own’s space objects, is an unsustainable, irresponsible, and destabilizing activity in space in which no responsible spacefaring state should engage. 

This event also shows that the United Nations’ planned Open-Ended Working Group on space threats and responsible behavior is more important than ever.  We hope that during its scheduled meetings in 2022 and 2023, the global community will reach agreement that debris-producing antisatellite testing is irresponsible behavior. It is in the interests of all to refrain from the deliberate creation of space debris that negates the collective efforts of many other space actors to reduce or avoid debris creation during their normal space operations.