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The United States decided earlier this year to end anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons testing and now hopes to get the rest of the world to follow suit. Later this month, the US will submit a resolution to the UN General Assembly to ban the use of such weapons. The US government has strategic reasons for wanting ASAT scrapped, but it’s also something space agencies around the world hope to see.

Vice President Kamala Harris announced the self-imposed ban on ASAT use in April in a speech at Vandenberg Space Force Base. The US has a vast number of orbital assets, many of which are dedicated to national security. As ASAT designs become more advanced, the potential for these assets to be destroyed weakens US dominance in space. Securing a ban on ASAT testing would help lock in America’s control of space around Earth, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

The decision to end US ASAT tests came just months after Russia tested an anti-satellite weapon by firing a projectile at its Kosmos-1408 satellite. The impact caused the derelict Cosmos-1408 to split apart, creating more than 1,500 pieces of trackable debris. The test increased the risk of an impact to the International Space Station (ISS), leading to condemnation by NASA and other space agencies. And this is just the latest example of ASAT testing. In 2019, India came under fire for using an anti-satellite missile (above) to destroy the Microsat-R spacecraft. Although the test was conducted at a lower altitude to limit the potential spread of debris, it still produced hundreds of traceable fragments that posed a hazard to other spacecraft.

After decades of orbital operations, humanity has filled low Earth orbit with a lot of junk. Technologies to remove old satellites are also slow to develop. Even a tiny piece like a screw can have enough impact force to blow a damaging hole in a manned spacecraft or completely destroy a satellite. Scientists have also speculated about an effect known as Kessler syndrome, in which the density of space junk becomes so high that an unstoppable cascade of destruction washes over the sky, potentially making space inaccessible for years. So far, the European Union, Canada and New Zealand have offered support for the UN resolution to ban ASAT testing, Breaking Defense reports.

There are more objects in orbit today than ever before — companies like SpaceX have deployed thousands of new satellites in the past few years. The cost of getting to orbit is also coming down thanks to reusable launch vehicles, so we expect this trend to continue. With more mess, any satellite smash test risks setting up a catastrophic future collision. Banning ASAT tests could help prevent this, but no one is saying anything about the ban development of ASAT technology. In the event of an all-out conflict, satellites could be a primary target and the consequences could be dire.

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