The private sector has just given a boost to an effort to make the space environment safer and more sustainable.
The nonprofit Secure World Foundation (SWF) announced on Tuesday (Nov. 14) that 26 different aerospace businesses have signed a declaration in favor of an international campaign to cease damaging anti-satellite (ASAT) testing.
Axiom Space, which has planned two commercial astronaut journeys to the International Space Station, and Planet, which collects Earth-observation data using hundreds of satellites, are among the signatories.
Axiom Space aspires to expand the off-world economy to unprecedented heights.
In the following years, the Houston-based business hopes to build and operate its own space station in low-earth orbit (LEO). Axiom has also signed agreements with SpaceX to fly many passenger flights to the International Space Station (ISS), with the first scheduled to launch in late February 2022.
Such initiatives are part of a larger goal to assist mankind in expanding its imprint beyond its home planet.
The campaign got up in earnest in April 2022, when the US agreed not to perform harmful direct-ascent ASAT testing. The Biden administration vowed not to undertake catastrophic anti-satellite missile tests in space, and it hopes that other countries will follow suit. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris made the statement today (April 18) at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, saying the government wants to set a positive example for responsible space activity.
Harris’ remarks come only a few months after a Russian anti-satellite test in November 2021 that caused such a big debris cloud that the International Space Station had to relocate out of the path. And it’s not the first time something like this has happened; in 2013, for example, a Russian spacecraft was struck by debris created six years before by a Chinese anti-satellite test.
A missile is launched from the ground (or a sea-based vehicle, or an airplane) and is directed against a dead or dying satellite.
However, scientists believe that ASAT testing will endanger humanity’s continued drive to spread its imprint across the last frontier.
“These tests can create long-lasting orbital debris that threatens national assets, commercial spacecraft, human spaceflight platforms, and many of the space-based services humanity uses on a daily basis,” the statement, which has just been issued, said.
“Such debris poses a direct threat to future economic activity and innovation in low Earth orbit by raising the costs of current and future operations and creating uncertainty for investors and operators,” according to the report.
The United States proposed a resolution to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2022, asking other countries to make a similar pledge. According to the SWF, a handful of people have already done so, bringing the total to 37. Major space actors such as Canada, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom are among them.
According to Vice President Kamala Harris, the US will soon push other countries to follow its lead and stop harmful, debris-generating anti-satellite tests.
Harris made that vow for the United States five months ago, and she launched a new and aggressive worldwide campaign on Friday (Sept. 9) at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston during a meeting of the National Space Council (NSC).
“This April, I announced that our nation would not conduct destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing,” said Harris, the NSC chair. “And later this month, the United States will introduce a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly to call on other nations to make the same commitment.”
The NSC influences American space policy. The body is comprised of several dozen high-ranking government officials, including the vice president, NASA administrator, and military and state secretaries.
“In the coming weeks, Assistant Secretary Stewart and her team will have extensive consultations at the U.N.,” Medina added, referring to Mallory Stewart, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance. “Our goal is that this resolution is adopted with the broadest possible support.”
Direct-ascent ASAT tests are more than just a theoretical threat. China, for example, destroyed one of its defunct satellites in 2007, spawning a massive new cloud of trash in Earth’s orbit. Russia followed likewise in November 2021, destroying a decommissioned Soviet-era spacecraft known as Cosmos 1408.
The flotsam produced by China’s anti-satellite test last month has caught the attention of space debris scientists as well as space policy experts. The purposeful destruction of China’s Fengyun-1C meteorological satellite on January 11 by a Chinese anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon has resulted in a jumble of bits floating across space. The disintegration of the satellite is currently regarded as the most prolific and catastrophic fragmentation in the course of five decades of space operations.
These experiments have been extensively denounced by the United States and other countries, as well as by space exploration supporters and enterprises. Indeed, the satellite monitoring and tracking business LeoLabs, one of the signatories to the recently issued industry statement, identified the Russian ASAT trial as a catalyst for action.
“From the November 2021 test, we tracked 1,800 total cataloged fragments,” LeoLabs stated in a post on X (previously known as Twitter) on Tuesday. “The danger from these tests is real and lasting, and that’s why we signed this statement.”