Washington accused Moscow on Monday of firing a missile against an inactive Russian satellite. This would have, according to the American space agency, “Generated over 1,500 traceable orbital debris” and go “Probably generate hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris.” Still according to NASA, the International Space Station (ISS) would pass “Through or near the cloud (of pieces – Editor’s note) every 90 minutes”. The astronauts were put on high alert, ready for an emergency evacuation. “I am scandalized by this irresponsible and destabilizing action”, in a statement accused Bill Nelson, administrator of NASA, while Antony Blinken, chief of the American diplomacy, declared that this shooting “Will threaten for decades to come satellites and other space objects vital to the security, economy, and scientific interests of other nations”.
No less than 900,000 pieces of debris larger than a centimeter
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Choïgou, on Tuesday recognized a shot against the Tselina-D satellite, inactive and in orbit since 1982. He denounced as “Hypocrites” attacks by the United States on the danger posed by the debris. Russia is not the first country to have fired on a satellite. China, India and the United States have done this in the past.
Military activity is not alone in producing waste. 1,500 satellites are in orbit. According to the European Space Agency, there are no less than 900,000 pieces of debris larger than a centimeter. A figure that is likely to increase. Because in the United States the actors of “New Space”, the private space industry, intend to deploy constellations of identical satellites. Tens of thousands of small objects are deployed to ensure global coverage of the Internet network by OneWorld or Tesla. This worries astronomers the most, because of light pollution. Ultimately, these minisatellites risk, at the end of their life, producing a great deal of waste in orbit and leading to numerous collisions.
Space security, a question of sovereignty
The Russian missile fire is the symptom of another evil: the militarization of space, supposed to be devolved to science. Across the Atlantic, Donald Trump has created a fourth army alongside the army, sea and air: the United States Space Forces. France followed suit, creating a space command. Space security is now a question of sovereignty, as satellites play a crucial role in the economy: geolocation for carriers, telecommunications for professionals and the general public, forecasts of the time of harvest for farmers, meteorology, etc.
This militarization and privatization of space by private American industry turns its back on the conception that has prevailed about space in recent decades. The space treaty, signed in 1967, provides for the non-warlike exploitation of this area. It makes it a place dedicated to exploration and cooperation. The rivalry between Moscow, Washington and Beijing undermines the latter. Indeed, the International Space Station has its days numbered. And countries like Russia or China are planning to have their own national space station.