U.S. military monitoring debris from India’s anti-satellite missile test

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SN Military.Space Sandra Erwin

The Air Force Space Command’s 18th Space Control Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, continues to track the cloud of space debris caused by India’s March 27 missile launch aimed at one of its own satellites in low Earth orbit.

The squadron on March 29 reported it was actively tracking more than 250 pieces of debris associated with the test. A missile launched from the ground slammed into a satellite at an altitude of about 300 kilometers.

The 18th SPCS said it had issued notifications to satellite operators “as needed to support spaceflight safety.”

“Based on the altitude of the impact, most of the trackable debris is anticipated to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere within a few weeks,” a DoD official told SpaceNews.“However, many pieces of the untrackable debris could persist for many months.”

Vice Commander of U.S. Space Command Lt. Gen. David Thompson said last week that U.S. satellites were not at risk, but when events like this generates debris, it might have “cascading effects.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had harsher words. He condemned the test yesterday during a town hall with employees.

He said of the 400 pieces of debris identified from the test, 60 are large enough to be tracked by U.S. military assets.

“Of those 60, we know that 24 of them are going above the apogee of the International Space Station,” he said. “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.

Bridenstine’s comments were the strongest criticism to date by a U.S. government official.

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