UN’s approval of the resolution comes as a relief to many who believe in safeguarding the integrity of our orbital ecosystem, including the 155 nations that voted in favor of the ban.
Earlier this year, the United States spearheaded a resolution to ban destructive direct-ascent antisatellite (ASAT) weapons testing in efforts to mitigate the space debris problem and promote sustainability in space activities. Many countries followed suit and joined the declaration by the US in banning the test, including France, Canada and New Zealand. On December 8, the United Nations General Assembly acknowledged the movement by approving the resolution with the overwhelming support of 155 countries. 9 countries voted against the motion, including Russia and China, and 9, including India, abstained from voting altogether. Despite this resolution not being legally binding, it is a step forward in the direction of creating a safe and sustainable outer space environment.
The UN believes that this resolution will bring about “an urgent, initial measure aimed at preventing damage to the outer space environment, while also contributing to the development of further measures for the prevention of an arms race in outer space.” Space debris has been the main culprit in creating environmental damage in space and ASAT tests are one of the biggest contributors to the space debris pile in our orbits.
These pieces of orbital junk not only pose a risk to the safety of satellites, astronauts and their space station, but also reflect sunlight back onto Earth which can interfere with ground-based telescopes. In November 2021, a Russian ASAT testing, that blasted Cosmos 1408 satellite into smithereens, created nearly 1800 tracked pieces of debris and even more minute pieces too small to be tracked. Seven International Space Station crew members had to take shelter from the cloud of debris passing through the space station’s trajectory. Many countries and private companies condemned Russia’s irresponsible behavior, with UK’s Defense Secretary Ben Wallace expressing concern that “the debris resulting from this test will remain in orbit putting satellites and human spaceflight at risk for years to come”.
In light of the potential hazard and damage posed by ASAT testing, UN’s approval of the resolution comes as a relief to many who believe in safeguarding the integrity of our orbital ecosystem. Applauding its move, United States’ Vice President Kamala Harris, tweeted “Back in April, I announced the United States will not conduct destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missile tests, and I called on other nations to join us. Today, 155 countries voted in favor of a UN resolution, helping establish this as an international norm for space”.