On November 15, 2021, the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation reported a successful test that hit the inactive Russian spacecraft Tselina-D, which had been in orbit since 1982.
The Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation further states that “The United States knows for a fact that the fragments produced during the tests did not and will not pose a threat to orbital stations, spacecraft and space activities in terms of test time and orbital parameters.”
The fragments are entered in the main catalog of the national space control system and are immediately taken up for tracking until they are destroyed. Previously, similar tests in outer space have already been conducted by the United States, China and India.”
Earlier, Western sources, citing data from the US Space Forces as saying that on the morning of November 15, Russia conducted an anti-satellite weapon test, hitting an old inactive Soviet Kosmos-1408 series 11F619 Tselina-D radio reconnaissance satellite in orbit since 1982 with a ground-based missile. The typical orbit of the Tselina-D series satellites was at an altitude of 544-566 km.
The destruction of the Kosmos-1408 satellite resulted in a significant amount of debris, which, according to the United States, threaten the spacecraft of other countries and the International Space Station (ISS). Warnings were issued to the ISS on the morning of 15 and 16 October about the possibility of a collision with space debris.
The US State Department issued the following statement:
“On November 15, 2021, the Russian Federation recklessly conducted a destructive test of a ground-launched anti-satellite missile on one of its own satellites.
Currently, more than one and a half thousand traceable orbital debris have been generated during this test, and hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris are likely to be formed. The long-lived debris generated by this dangerous and irresponsible test will now threaten satellites and other space objects that are vital to the security, economic and scientific interests of all countries for decades to come.
In addition, it will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station and other human activities in space flights. This test negligently endangered the safety of all participants seeking to explore and use outer space for peaceful purposes.
The events of 15 November 2021 clearly demonstrate that Russia, despite its claims to oppose the militarisation of outer space, is prepared to jeopardise the long-term sustainability of outer space and endanger the exploration and use of outer space by all nations through its reckless and irresponsible behaviour.
The United States will work with our allies and partners to try to respond to this irresponsible act. We call on all responsible spacefaring nations to join us in efforts to develop norms of responsible behaviour and to refrain from conducting dangerous and irresponsible disruptive tests like those conducted by Russia.”
From the bmpd, we point out that, apparently, on November 15, the first practical test of the anti-satellite interceptor missile of the advanced anti-missile and anti-space defence system (long-range interceptor missile system with a space-based missile) Nudol was conducted on a real space target.
The Nudol rocket was launched from the State Test Cosmodrome of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation (Plesetsk Cosmodrome) in the Arkhangelsk region and, as already mentioned, successfully struck the old inactive Soviet radio reconnaissance satellite Cosmos-1408 of the series 11F619, Tselina-D, which has been in orbit since 1982.
The Russian side issued a NOTAM navigation warning in advance which closed a number of areas in the Barents Sea and the Laptev Sea to flights from 15 to 17 November. The closures were related to rocket launches from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.
Previously, according to American data, nine test launches of the Nudol missile complex were carried out, but without engaging a real target:
- A launch on August 12, 2014 – from the Plesetsk test site – according to the US Department of Defence it was unsuccessful, but according to the web resource planet4589.org, it was successful;
- A launch on April 22, 2015 – Plesetsk – according to the US Department of Defence and web resource planet 4589.org, it was unsuccessful;
- A launch of November 18, 2015 – Plesetsk – it was successful;
- A launch of 25 May 2016 – Plesetsk – it was successful;
- A launch of December 16, 2016 – from a “base in the central part of Russia” (Kapustin Yar polygon?) – it was successful;
- A launch of March 26, 2018 – Plesetsk – from a standard mobile launcher (previous launches were made from test launchers) – it was successful;
- A launch of December 23, 2018 – Plesetsk – from a standard mobile launcher – it was successful;
- A launch of April 15, 2020 – Plesetsk – from a standard mobile launcher – the success was not reported (apparently successful);
- A launch of 16 December 2020 – Plesetsk – from a standard mobile launcher – success was not reported (apparently successful).
Regarding both 2020 launches, the United States did not report an assessment of their success, but judging by the angry releases of the US Space Forces about “Russian aggression”, in both cases the tests were also successful.
The 14Ts033 Nudol complex is being developed by JSC Almaz-Antey Concern under contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defence dated August 2009 and April 2015. The core element of the Nudol is the 14A042 solid-fuel rocket developed by JSC OKB Novator (Ekaterinburg), housed on the 14P222 mobile launcher (on the chassis of the MZKT 12×12).
According to Western data, the 14A042 missile is equipped with a kinetic interceptor with a multispectral electro-optical homing head (MOEGSN, 14Sh129, developed by the JSC A.E. Nudelman Precision Engineering Design Bureau). The complex also uses a 14P078 mobile command and control unit (on the MZKT chassis).
The targeting of the complex is provided by a 14Ts031 stationary radar for detecting small-sized space objects (object 20Yu6), deployed near the city of Chekhov in the Moscow region. In the future, it is believed that the complex should include its own mobile target designation and guidance radar.
It is worth mentioning that the last time the USSR tested an anti-satellite system on a real target in space was on June 18, 1982, when the IS-MU ground anti-satellite system (using the 11K69 Cyclone-2 launcher with the 14F10 interceptor satellite with the designation Kosmos-1379), successfully hit the target satellite Kosmos-1375 in an orbit about 1000 km high.
It should also be mentioned that, apparently, the practical height of hitting a space target at an orbital altitude of 500-550 km demonstrated during the Nudol complex test on November 15 indicates that orbital aircraft of the American Boeing X-37B type, whose orbit height is in the range of 400-500 km, are considered one of the main potential targets of this complex.
The newspaper Vedomoski published an article by Alexei Nikolsky and Ilya Lakstygal “The Ministry of Defence has acknowledged the tests of an anti-satellite missile. Test results do not threaten the ISS, the military says,” which states that the Russian Ministry of Defence has issued a statement stating that there are no threats to the International Space Station (ISS) as a result of the Russian anti-satellite weapons tests.
The statements by American officials who called these tests dangerous, were called “hypocritical” in the press release of the Ministry of Defence, as the Americans, according to the Russian military, know that these tests do not pose any threat.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the target of the tests was the Soviet reconnaissance satellite Tseline-D, which had been out of service for several decades.
These tests, during which an officially unnamed anti-satellite rocket launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome, took place on November 15. Charles Borden, director of the American Aerospace Agency NASA, called them irresponsible and posing a threat to the ISS and spacecraft, as the target was in orbit just a few dozens of kilometers above the ISS orbit, with the orbits of Tselina-D and the ISS being in different planes. Representatives of the US State Department and the US Defence ministry also condemned the tests.
The test that took place destroying a satellite by launching a missile from Earth is not a routine event, says Aleksandr Ermakov, an expert of the Russian Council on International Affairs (RCIA). It is only the fourth test of this kind in the post-Cold War period – Chinese, American and Indian tests have previously been carried out consecutively.
Such weapons can be tested with a launch at a notional point, by and large, with almost the same result for the programme, but this is not as “spectacular” as firing at a real target, he says.
It is difficult to assess Russia’s progress in anti-satellite weapons based on open data, but we are at least on par with China and the United States, and maybe even higher, according to missiles launched from the ground, he continues. “Creating a potential physical threat not only to other satellites, but also to the ISS makes this fireworks display the most epic compared to previous tests of other countries,” says Ermakov.
At the same time, anti-satellite weapons at the present stage, when the military use of space is becoming increasingly important, are very promising and will be developed by all players who are capable of it, the expert concludes.
Anti-missile systems can be used as anti-satellite weapons, says Dmitri Stefanovich of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IWEIR RAS) – it is easier to fight satellites than to destroy enemy missiles. In recent years, the United States, China and India have tested such weapons, and in principle, any country with anti-missile systems can effectively shoot down satellites.
As Stefanovich notes, the Unites States seeks to dominate outer space, something Russia and China cannot allow. And the absence of a ban on the deployment of conventional weapons in space will allow world powers to further develop their methods of combating satellites.
The extent of the threat to the ISS cannot be assessed based on open data, says Ermakov. It is possible that the trajectory discrepancies were large, and the station crew acted on the basis of reinsurance, since clarifying the trajectories of all the debris required some time, Ermakov continues.
There is no need to talk about any real damage to the space station, so Stefanovich considers the US reaction too emotional and “overblown” due to Washington’s political interests.
A littler earlier, the newspaper Kommersant in an article by Elena Chernenko titled “They littered here. The US says that Russia conducted a dangerous test of anti-satellite weapons”, reporting on the American reaction to the test, wrote that the US State Department issued a statement on the alleged Russian testing of anti-satellite weapons over the weekend.
It claimed that the debris from the test may have threatened the International Space Station. Kommersant sent enquiries to Roscosmos and the Ministry of Defence.
“Russia recklessly conducted a destructive test of an anti-satellite weapon against one of its satellites. As a result, more than 1.5 thousand pieces of debris under observation and hundreds of thousands of fragments of smaller space debris have appeared, which now threatens the interests of all countries” – Ned Price, head of the State Department press service, said at a briefing on Monday. “The test will significantly increase the danger to astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS.”
Mr. Price added that “the United States will work with allies and partners to respond to these irresponsible actions by Russia”.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon said that the anti-satellite weapons allegedly being developed by Russia threaten the United States, and noted that the world needs common norms for the development of near-Earth space.
CNN correspondents were the first to report on the upcoming statement of the State Department on Twitter.
“The USA is very concerned about a major test of Russian anti-satellite weapons conducted over the weekend, and the State Department is preparing a statement on the matter, according to two US officials. The US Space Command confirms that an unusual “event has occurred that led to the appearance of debris”,” wrote CNN national security correspondent Kylie Atwood.
“ “The US Space Command is aware of the event that caused the formation of debris in outer space. We are actively working to establish the dispersal of the debris and will seek to provide all spacefaring nations with the information necessary to manoeuvre satellites in the event of a threat.” – US Space Command”, – added her colleague, Jim Scuitto.
It should be noted that the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation has not reported on tests of anti-satellite weapons in recent days.
Kommersant sent an enquiry to the agency.
The United States has previously accused Russia of conducting dangerous tests of anti-satellite missiles.
Meanwhile, Pavel Podvig, director of the Strategic Nuclear Weapons of Russia project, senior researcher at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (Geneva), drew attention to the fact that commercial companies capable of tracking space objects report that fragments were found in the orbit where one of the Soviet spacecraft, Kosmos-1408, was launched back in 1982 and has long ceased operation. So, for example, experts of the British company Seradata claim that “14 fragments were found”.
“Somewhat earlier, Russia issued a NOTAM navigational warning, which closed a number of areas in the Barents Sea and the Laptev Sea to flights for the period from November 15 to 17. The closure of such areas is linked with rocket launches from the Plesetsk cosmodrome, and their configuration is noticeably different from those that are closed during ballistic missile test”, explains Pavel Podvig. – In December 2020, the US Space Command explicitly stated that the test associated with the closure of these areas was a test of an anti-satellite system. Tests of this system, known as Nudol, were started in 2014”.
According to Kommersant’s interlocutor, the reason for the formation of orbital fragments could be the test of an anti-satellite system against a real target, which was Kosmos-1408.
“Until today, Russia has not conducted tests with the destruction of objects in orbit (the Soviet Union conducted the last such test in 1982). Kosmos 1408 was in orbit with an altitude of about 500 km. Its destruction should undoubtedly lead to the formation of a large number of fragments that can threaten other space objects”, the expert says.
Dmitry Stefanovich, a researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IWEIR RAS), co-founder of the Vatfor Project, also does not rule out that Russia might have tested an anti-missile rocket from one of the airspace defence systems under development, NOTAM notices have been published about a possibly related launch from the Plesetsk cosmodrome.
The expert admits that anti-missile, rather than anti-satellite missions were being tested. “Previously, India, China and the United States also tested missiles directly on satellites with the destruction of the latter, but the scientific and expert community believes such tests are unnecessarily dangerous”, he told Kommersant.
It is from the Seradata reports that the debris from the downed Kosmos 1408 by Russia may have threatened the International Space Station (ISS).
Recall that earlier on Monday, it was reported that the astronauts on the ISS had to hide in the spacecraft because of the threat of debris colliding with the station. It was also reported that it was about satellite wreckage, but it was not specified which one. A few hours later, it was announced that the threat had passed, but the next approach is expected on Tuesday between 11:38 and 11:44 Moscow time. The crew will have to hide in the spacecraft again.
Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubov, as well as NASA astronaut Mark Van de Hai, are on the ISS. On November 12, Crew Dragon-3 docked to the station with four more astronauts, the crew included Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron (NASA) and Matthias Maurer (ESA).
Kommersant sent an inquiry to Roscosmos.
The RIA Novosti agency clarifies that this is not the first recent case of a dangerous approach of space debris with the ISS: “On November 10, the station evaded a fragment of the Chinese weather satellite Fengyun-1C, which the Chinese military shot down during tests of anti-satellite weapons in 2007”.
It is noteworthy that, according to one of the other satellite tracking systems, Kosmos 1408 is still in orbit.
“The exact nature of the “event” that the US authorities are talking about, and the degree of threat that it can create for objects in orbit, should become clear in the near future, as the US Space Command catalogues data on fragments found in orbit”, explains Pavel Podvig.
Recall that Russia, together with China, is promoting an initiative at the UN to ban the placement of weapons in outer space. “The risks of turning outer space into an arena of conflicts are becoming quite real.
A number of UN member states are pursuing a policy of deploying weapons in outer space, building up the potential for forceful influence (both kinetic and non-kinetic) on space objects and using outer space for conducting military operations in order to achieve their own military superiority”, Vladimir Ermakov, Director of the Department for Non-proliferation and Arms Control of the Russian Foreign Ministry, told at the general political debate in the First Committee of the UN General Assembly.
According to him, Moscow believes that regardless of the existing differences in relations between individual states, it is in the common interests of the international community to prevent the transformation of outer space into an arena of hostilities.