The US has said it will no longer conduct destructive anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons testing in space, and has called for discussions between nations with space capabilities with a goal of agreeing to an agreed set of responsible behaviours in space.
The Biden-Harris Administration’s announcement was made by Vice-President Kamala Harris during a visit to Vandenburg AFB in California on 18 April. She said the US would no longer conduct direct-ascent ASAT tests which destroy satellites by kinetic or explosive means, and which cause hazardous debris fields in orbit.
“The Vice President also called on other nations to make similar commitments and to work together in establishing this as a norm, making the case that such efforts benefit all nations,” a White House statement reads.
“At the Biden-Harris Administration’s first National Space Council meeting in December, Vice President Harris tasked the National Security Council staff to work with the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and other national security agencies to develop proposals for national security space norms that advance US interests and preserve the security and sustainability of space,” it adds. “The commitment announced today is the first initiative under this effort. The United States is the first nation to make such a declaration.”
Both China and Russia have conducted such tests in recent years. In 2007 China destroyed a decommissioned weather satellite orbiting at an altitude on 865km with a kinetic kill vehicle in 2007, creating a hazardous debris field for other space vehicles in its orbital path.
A Russian test in November 2021 created a huge debris field of more than 1,500 trackable objects in low-earth orbit (LEO) when a ground-launched ASAT destroyed a retired electronic intelligence satellite orbiting at an altitude of about 500km.
The US has conducted two acknowledged ASAT tests. In 1985 a missile launched from an F-15 fighter (title pic) shot down a decommissioned gamma ray spectroscopy satellite at an altitude of 555km, and it took until 2004 for the last piece of that satellite to de-orbit and burn up in the atmosphere. In 2008, a US Navy SM-3 missile launched from a destroyer was used to shoot down a malfunctioning satellite at an altitude of 247km, with the last piece of the debris from that test de-orbiting in 2009.