Debris has been scattered across space after a Russian satellite was blown up in a test, the US State Department has said.
The incident appears to have been a test of an anti-satellite weapon, or ASAT, that destroyed an old and out-of-use Soviet satellite.
The test has led to hundreds of thousands of pieces of debris that is now stuck in orbit and “threaten the interests of all nations”, a spokesperson said.
That includes those astronauts on the International Space Station who earlier today were forced to shelter in place on board their spacecraft, as part of emergency measures to avoid a dangerous cloud of debris. Officials are yet to confirm that the two sets of debris are definitely the same.
“This test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as to other human spaceflight activities,” a spokesperson for the State Department said in a briefing.
“Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardises the long term sustainability of our space and clearly demonstrates that Russia’s claims of opposing the weaponisation of space are disingenuous and hypocritical.”
Though the State Department said that it would not share “specific measures” that it would take in response, it said it would work with allies “to make clear that the United States that the international community is not going to tolerate this kind of irresponsible behaviour”.
The US and Russia operate the International Space Station in partnership. Crew members from both Nasa and Russian space agency Roscosmos were involved in the emergency “safe haven” measures that saw them retreat into spacecraft as the debris cloud passed near the space station.
There are now at least 1,500 pieces of trackable debris from the explosion, and many more smaller pieces floating in orbit.
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