ASAT tests: The reason we can’t have nice things

That’s right, this is why we can’t have nice things. Debris from the satellite China destroyed with an anti-satellite missile in January 2007 has finally done what everyone was afraid of: it hit another satellite, possibly causing serious damage. According to Space.com, the debris from China’s 1,600-pound FY-1C weather satellite collided with Russia’s tiny "Ball ...

NASA
NASA
NASA

That's right, this is why we can't have nice things. Debris from the satellite China destroyed with an anti-satellite missile in January 2007 has finally done what everyone was afraid of: it hit another satellite, possibly causing serious damage.

According to Space.com, the debris from China's 1,600-pound FY-1C weather satellite collided with Russia's tiny "Ball Lens In The Space (BLITS) retroreflector satellite" (we have no idea what that means, either) on January 22.

Like we said, the international community has been worrying about this for a long time. Almost immediately after China shot down its relatively new satellite just to show that it could, it was condemned by the U.S. government for introducing a massive cloud of dangerous debris into the very crowded orbital highways. (The image above shows the debris stream roughly one month after the test, the lone white track represents the orbit of the International Space Station.)

That’s right, this is why we can’t have nice things. Debris from the satellite China destroyed with an anti-satellite missile in January 2007 has finally done what everyone was afraid of: it hit another satellite, possibly causing serious damage.

According to Space.com, the debris from China’s 1,600-pound FY-1C weather satellite collided with Russia’s tiny "Ball Lens In The Space (BLITS) retroreflector satellite" (we have no idea what that means, either) on January 22.

Like we said, the international community has been worrying about this for a long time. Almost immediately after China shot down its relatively new satellite just to show that it could, it was condemned by the U.S. government for introducing a massive cloud of dangerous debris into the very crowded orbital highways. (The image above shows the debris stream roughly one month after the test, the lone white track represents the orbit of the International Space Station.)

China is believed to have used a modified version of its DF-21 ballistic missile (the same missile on which its DF-21D carrier-killer is based) to smash the satellite orbiting 537-miles above Earth into 2,841 pieces of "high-velocity" debris. That debris has twice passed close to the International Space Station.

To be fair, the United States destroyed an orbiting satellite for similar reasons — to prove it could — using a missile lobbed into space by an F-15 Eagle fighter in 1985. That test was reportedly rushed before Congress banned such activities due to the dangers posed by space debris and a desire to avoid militarizing space.

Anyway, the ever growing cloud of space debris and trash is a huge driver behind the U.S. military’s push to improve its so-called Space Situational Awareness. Basically, it wants to know what’s going on in the vicinity of all of its satellites so that it can steer them clear of a potential collision. Right now, the U.S. and other nations mostly rely on catalogues listing the orbits and last known locations of debris and satellites instead of real-time monitoring.

John Reed is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He comes to FP after editing Military.com’s publication Defense Tech and working as the associate editor of DoDBuzz. Between 2007 and 2010, he covered major trends in military aviation and the defense industry around the world for Defense News and Inside the Air Force. Before moving to Washington in August 2007, Reed worked in corporate sales and business development for a Swedish IT firm, The Meltwater Group in Mountain View CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Tracy Press and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner newspapers in California. His first story as a professional reporter involved chasing escaped emus around California’s central valley with Mexican cowboys armed with lassos and local police armed with shotguns. Luckily for the giant birds, the cowboys caught them first and the emus were ok. A New England native, Reed graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in international affairs and history.

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