United States Initiating Collective Effort towards Banning Anti-Satellite Testing

by | Sep 15, 2022 | News Articles, Product, Space Exploration

The U.S. will propose a U.N. resolution on prohibiting other nations to conduct direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) testing. 

In April, the U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris announced the country’s resignation from testing destructive ASAT missiles to promote responsible use of space. Taking it further, the country wants to introduce a global agreement for other nations to follow suit. So far, four countries — the U.S., China, Russia and India — have destroyed their own satellites in ASAT tests. But in the face of growing concern over increasing space debris, there is a push towards observing  safety and sustainability in space endeavors. 

In her announcement, Kamala Harris stated, “We are the first nation to make such a commitment, and today, on behalf of the United States of America, I call on all nations to join us, whether they are spacefaring or not. We believe this will benefit everyone, just as space benefits everyone.” 

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris announced the ASAT test ban at Vandenberg Space Force Base. (Source: U.S. Space Force)

Simply put, space debris not only generously pollutes the orbital environment, but it is also dangerous to space infrastructures, such as satellites and space stations. As a generous contributor to orbital pollution, ASAT testing must be curbed. It is high time for the global space industry to put a stop to anti satellite testing and the U.S. seems to want to ensure it. 

In an attempt to make the ban a global effort, the United States plans to introduce a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly later this month to bring other nations aboard on an agreement to abandon destructive direct-ascent ASAT testing. Despite many countries supporting the U.S. for their bold move against ASAT testing in April, only Canada and New Zealand have pledged to follow suit. The objective of this resolution is to encourage nations to formally commit their support to putting together a shared agreement with the majority of U.N. member states on prohibiting ASAT testing. Moreover, the U.S. also hopes that such a global agreement will put pressure on countries with future plans for ASAT tests. As of September 14, Japan and Germany have stepped forward to pledge their commitment against conducting ASAT missile testing, in efforts to promote responsible and peaceful behavior in outer space.

A more recent ASAT testing of Cosmos 1408 satellite before (left) and after (right) an impact from a Russian anti-satellite test on November 15, 2021. (Source: Numerica Corporation)

Destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) tests are without a doubt one of the biggest contributors to space debris polluting our orbits. Most of the orbital debris today consists of parts of manmade objects, such as defunct satellites, rocket stages, and tiny bits and pieces of scrap resulting from explosions in space. 

In fact, China’s FengYun-1C anti-satellite missile testing of 2007 escalated the trackable space object population by 25%, posing a significant collision threat to other space objects in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The U.S. destroyed a malfunctioning top-secret American satellite in a direct-ascent ASAT operation known as “Burnt Frost”, resulting in 174 pieces of debris. In our zeal for innovating state-of-the-art technologies and conducting advanced space operations to explore the final frontier, we have forgotten to be mindful of our orbital environment.