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Kelly Downplays Russian ASAT Threat

WASHINGTON — A senator and former astronaut said he did not expect Russia to conduct another antisatellite weapon test because of debris that posed a risk to Russia’s own satellites and others.

At a panel session of the McCain Institute’s Sedona Forum on April 30, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on emerging threats, said he did not consider ASATs to be a threat to the government or business sector. short-term satellites, including during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“They did an anti-satellite test recently, but that test was very well choreographed and produced to a certain result,” he said, referring to the November 2021 ASAT test that destroyed the Cosmos 1408 satellite. “I wouldn’t say right now the Russians in particular they have an anti-satellite capability that I would be too concerned about.”

Kelly, a former NASA astronaut who flew four shuttle missions, recalled on a 2008 flight that he had to maneuver both the shuttle and the International Space Station to avoid debris from a 2007 Chinese ASAT test. The experience of both that test like last year’s ASAT demonstration, he suggested, makes it unlikely that Russia will conduct similar destructive ASAT tests in the foreseeable future.

“I don’t expect this to be a routine thing because they have to deal with this debris field as well,” he said of Russia, citing its limited space situational awareness capabilities. “The Russians in particular don’t really know where things are.”

“I don’t expect them to routinely shoot their own stuff. They wanted to show that they could do it, probably to send us a message,” she said.

Vice President Kamala Harris announced on April 18 that the United States would not conduct similar direct-ascent destructive ASAT tests, calling on other nations to make that commitment. However, another panelist criticized that ban.

“We cannot unilaterally tie our hands, because along with that ban request there was also a unilateral decision to stop ASAT testing,” said Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee and Committee Chamber of Sciences. His comments echoed criticism from other Republican members of Congress.

“Not all anti-satellite tests are created equal,” he argued, calling the Russian and Chinese tests “reckless” because of the amount of debris they created. “The way the United States does it, the last one we did created less than 100” pieces of debris.

Waltz seemed to be referring to the United States’ 2008 ASAT demonstration that destroyed the USA 193 satellite. That test created 174 pieces of tracked debris, the last of which re-entered 1.7 years later, according to data compiled by the Secure World Foundation. .

Kelly warned that rising debris populations could create a cascade, commonly called Kessler Syndrome, that could render some orbits useless. However, he was skeptical of proposals to address that problem through debris removal.

“There are some companies looking to do that. I just don’t see that being a reasonable thing to do,” she said, without going into detail about why orbital debris removal isn’t feasible.

He argued that the natural breakdown of atmospheric drag could solve much of the debris problem. However, many models predict that the amount of debris outside very low orbits will continue to grow for decades due to breakups and collisions, even if no new objects are launched.

future of the space station

The panel took place amid renewed claims that Russia planned to leave the International Space Station partnership. An April 30 Bloomberg article, citing Russian state media, indicated that Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin had said that Russia had made a decision about its future on the ISS, but would not disclose it publicly.

However, a Russian-language article by the TASS news service, which reported on Rogozin’s comments, added that he said Russia would continue to participate in the station until at least 2024, the date it had previously committed to. Russia would provide its partners with a year’s notice of its plans to leave the association, he said.

In a separate TASS article on April 29, Rogozin suggested that no decision had been made, saying that any decision on Russia’s future participation in the ISS “will largely depend on the developing situation both in Russia and abroad.” around”.

When asked about the latest development, Kelly said she speaks regularly with NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy on the subject. “Ending that partnership will be somewhat challenging,” she said, due to Russia’s role in ISS operations. “It would be difficult for either country to operate the ISS without the other country.”

He said it may be possible to replace a Russian contribution, the ability to re-orbit the station, with modified cargo spacecraft. “It would take some time to build that capacity.”

Kelly predicted that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will eventually affect the partnership with the ISS, as the US looks for additional ways to sanction Russia. “Eventually we will have done everything and one thing will remain, and that is this partnership in space on the ISS with them,” she said.

Waltz endorsed the continued operations of the ISS, citing the benefits of the research done there. “We don’t even know yet what we can discover up there,” he said, expressing his support for privatizing ISS operations and eventually replacing the station with commercial space stations. “If we don’t do that, the Chinese will be the only entity with their own space station, which they’re building right now in low-Earth orbit, and that’s not acceptable.”