On Monday, November 15, the International Space Station (ISS) Flight Control team was notified of indications of a satellite breakup that may create sufficient debris to pose a conjunction threat to the station.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson released the following statement about the incident:
“Earlier today, due to the debris generated by the destructive Russian Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test, ISS astronauts and cosmonauts undertook emergency procedures for safety. Like Secretary Blinken, I’m outraged by this irresponsible and destabilizing action. With its long and storied history in human spaceflight, it is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts on the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts. Their actions are reckless and dangerous, threatening as well the Chinese space station and the taikonauts on board.
“All nations have a responsibility to prevent the purposeful creation of space debris from ASATs and to foster a safe, sustainable space environment.
“NASA will continue monitoring the debris in the coming days and beyond to ensure the safety of our crew in orbit.”
The crew was awakened and directed to close the hatches to radial modules on the station, including Columbus, Kibo, the Permanent Multipurpose Module, Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, and Quest Joint Airlock. Hatches between the U.S. and Russian segments remain open.
An additional precautionary measure of sheltering the crew was executed for two passes through or near the vicinity of the debris cloud. The crew members made their way into their spacecraft shortly before 2 a.m. EST and remained there until about 4:00 a.m.
The space station is passing through or near the cloud every 90 minutes, but the need to shelter for only the second and third passes of the event was based on a risk assessment made by the debris office and ballistics specialists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
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Space Data Association’s Chairman, Pascal Wauthier, stated,
“On 15th November, a non-functional Russian satellite was destroyed by a direct-ascent anti-satellite mission. This has resulted in the generation of over fifteen hundred trackable objects so far, which will very significantly increase the risk of future collisions and further debris generation. This irresponsible action poses an unacceptable increase in risk to the long-term sustainability of space, spacecraft operations and to human spaceflight.
“Following a similar debris-generating Chinese ASAT activity in 2007, the region impacted has become one of the most crowded in Earth orbit.
“It is the responsibility of all countries, institutions and companies active in space to ensure that they always act in a safe manner and avoid any actions that risk that sustainability. This test risks everything that responsible space actors are working tirelessly to protect and represents a deliberate action that undermines the safe and sustainable use of space for all of humankind.”