Space Debris Concerns — via ARRL
Russia tested an anti-satellite weapon on November 15, destroying Kosmos 1408, one of its own old and now-defunct satellites. Launched in 1982, Kosmos 1408 was some 300 miles above Earth. Its destruction generated a debris field in low-Earth orbit that prompted the seven International Space Station crew members, including one Russian cosmonaut, to take cover in their crew capsules for several hours, in case they had to abandon the station.
“The ISS 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,” NASA Chief Bill Nelson explained. Occupants of the Chinese space station are reported to have taken similar action.
The incident also has generated criticism from many corners, as well as a grave discussion on the possible impact of any future such tests, by Russia or anyone else.
The danger of damage to the ISS or an orbiting satellite aside, tracking a debris field that could include thousands of pieces, in order to head off collisions, is a concern all its own. Very small debris in space is essentially impossible to track reliably, if at all. The incident also comes at a time when the number of spacecraft orbiting Earth continues to grow.
AMSAT President Robert Bankston, KE4AL, said that Russia’s action will pose a threat to all activities in low Earth orbit for years to come, placing satellites and human spaceflight missions at risk.
“Space is already crowded, but now there are at least 1,500 trackable fragments and, possibly, hundreds of thousands of smaller yet still-threatening pieces of debris in low-Earth orbit,” Bankston said. “While space stations have the capability to move out of the way, with sufficient notice, most satellites in low-Earth orbit, including those designed, built, launched, and operated by AMSAT, do not. As such, they face greater risk of catastrophic destruction or degraded mission functionality, if struck by fragments from Russia’s destruction of Kosmos-1408.”
Bankston said AMSAT is closely monitoring the situation and hoping for the best. Nelson echoed Secretary of State Antony Blinken in expressing his own outrage at Russia’s action. “Their actions are reckless and dangerous, threatening as well the Chinese space station and the taikonauts on board,” he said.
FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington condemned the incident as “irresponsible” and noting that orbital debris fields pose a threat to hopes for the peaceful use of space and “make the work of using space complicated and difficult,” he said in a statement https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DOC-377885A1.pdf “No one owns space,” Simington said. “And no one should intentionally make it more difficult to use.”
The FCC has made it clear that orbital debris rules apply to amateur satellites, in general requiring submission of an orbital debris mitigation plan with each license application.