Dmitry Rogozin Takes Aim at America's Anti-Satellite Weapons After Test Ban

Dmitry Rogozin, the director-general of Roscosmos and former deputy prime minister of Russia, has responded to Vice President Kamala Harris announcing the United States' commitment to not create hazardous "space junk" by conducting destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile testing.

The head of Russia's space agency tweeted: "I am translating into Russian what she said: The United States has completed a series of tests of anti-satellite weapons and put them into service with the U.S. Space Force."

Rogozin's tweet appeared to suggest that the U.S. had largely finished with its ASAT testing and the weapons it developed were available to the nation. The last ASAT test carried out by the U.S. was in 2008—a test that produced over 170 pieces of debris.

The U.S. is one of only four countries that has tested anti-satellite weapons. China, Russia and India make up the remainder. India's test, carried out in 2019, was carried out in low-Earth orbit, with the government claiming they posted little risk from space debris as they would vanish over time.

In a press release from the White House, officials said that the move announced by Harris, who was speaking at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, represents an effort to "preserve the security and sustainability of space."

As the U.S. became the first nation to make such a commitment, the vice president also encouraged other countries to follow the move and establish the cessation of such tests as the norm.

A press statement from the White House pointed to Russia and China as examples of ASAT testing. "This commitment addresses one of the most pressing threats to the security and sustainability of space, as demonstrated by Russia's November 2021 destructive direct ­ascent ASAT missile test. The People's Republic of China conducted a similar test in 2007," it said.

"The destruction of space objects through direct-ascent ASAT missile testing is reckless and irresponsible."

The Russian Defense Ministry made similar remarks after its 2021 ASAT tests, saying the U.S. was "hypocritical" in its condemnation of Russia. RIA Novosti quoted the Russian Defense Ministry as saying: "[The U.S.] is actively developing and testing, without any notification, various types of advanced strike and combat weapons in orbit."

The risk of space debris

As Newsweek previously reported, in November 2021 the detonation of a Russian anti-satellite missile created over 1,500 pieces of trackable space junk and thousands of smaller pieces of debris.

This forced the crew of the ISS, orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 260 miles, to take cover as experts believed the debris created by the destruction of a disused Russian satellite could threaten the space station.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement: "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. NASA will continue monitoring the debris in the coming days and beyond to ensure the safety of our crew in orbit."

As of May 2021, NASA says that the Department of Defense's global Space Surveillance Network (SSN) sensors were tracking over 27,000 pieces of orbital debris.

The agency said that much more debris exists which is too small to be tracked and that both large and small debris represents a threat to human spaceflight and robotic missions.

This is because these pieces of space junk orbit the planet at extreme speeds, often as great as 15,700 miles per hour, meaning that even the impact of a small piece of debris can cause a large amount of damage.

In the press statement issued on April 18, the White House also wrote that conflict and confrontation between countries in space is not inevitable, but that the U.S. aims to ensure "outer space remains free from conflict."

The White House statement continued: "The Biden-Harris Administration had made clear that the United States will engage the international community to uphold and strengthen a rules-based international order for space. The United States, working with commercial industry, allies, and partners, will lead in the development of new measures that contribute to the safety, stability, security, and long-term sustainability of space activities.

"Overall, through this new commitment and other actions, the United States will demonstrate how space activities can be conducted in a responsible, peaceful, and sustainable manner."

This article has been updated to include more information on ASAT testing.

Rogozin/ Harris
(Right) Head of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin speaks in November at the Kremlin (left) Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks to members of Vandenberg Space Force Base at Vandenberg Space Force Base on April 18, 2022 in Lompoc, California. Harris pledged to ban satellite missile testing to limit the creation of space junk. GETTY/Mario Tama/ Mikhail Svetlov