Last week, Russia used a missile to destroy a satellite, sending thousands of pieces of the satellite flying through space. Russia’s actions have put astronauts and spacecraft in greater danger. They have also caused serious concerns back on Earth.
On November 15, Russia used a missile to blow up one of its old satellites. The satellite, called Cosmos 1408, was no longer working.
The blast resulted in pieces of the satellite flying through space at speeds of roughly 17,000 mph (27,360 kph). The seven astronauts in the International Space Station had to take shelter in the capsules that brought them to the space station.
The satellite exploded into at least 1,500 flying pieces that are big enough to track from Earth, as well as hundreds of thousands of smaller ones. These flying bits are known as “space junk” or “space debris“. Space debris is a huge problem, and it’s getting worse quickly.
Since humans began going into space, debris has been collecting. Some of it is old satellites or spacecraft, or parts of rockets that launched spacecraft. Some of it comes from parts that have been lost or have broken up or broken off.
Because of the great speed of most objects in space, even small things like a screw or a paint flake can cause serious problems for other satellites or spacecraft. The problem is becoming even more important as space gets more crowded, with hundreds of satellites being launched every year.
Countries around the world have criticized Russia’s decision. Bill Nelson, the leader of the United States’ space agency, NASA, called Russia’s actions “reckless and dangerous”. Mr. Nelson pointed out that all of the astronauts on the ISS were put in danger, including two Russians. Other countries, including the European Union, Japan, Korea, and Australia, also condemned the move.
Russia claims their actions caused no danger. They pointed out that other countries, including the US, China, and India, have also shot down satellites in the past.
China did something similar in 2007. Over 2,000 pieces of space debris from that event are still causing problems in space. The debris from Russia’s satellite is expected to remain in space for years, and perhaps even decades.
Many people think Russia’s actions are designed to send a message about Russia’s powerful weapons. The move comes at a time when Russia’s relations with the US and the EU are very tense.
The event has certainly raised concerns about weapons in space. Most countries have come to depend on satellites for many important activities. The loss of an important satellite in space could easily have huge effects back on Earth.
The United Nations’ 1967 Outer Space Treaty promotes the idea of using space for peaceful purposes. There are worries that Russia’s actions could start a dangerous period of countries competing to develop and use space weapons. Some groups are calling for a complete ban on all future testing of similar weapons.