By Michael Krepon – The Chinese anti-satellite test will provide added fuel for a military space competition. This competition will not rise to the level of an arms race, at least measured in Cold War terms, partly because it doesn’t take huge arsenals to mess up space. How badly space operations can be endangered by anti-satellite weapons was on display in the Chinese test.
This irresponsible and dangerous act appears to have produced a huge and lethal debris field. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 800 pieces of debris 10cm or larger was generated by the impact. More troubling is that 400,000 pieces of debris between 1cm and 10cm may have been generated. This debris is too small to be tracked but still poses a potentially catastrophic threat to satellites and manned space flight – Chinese as well as American.
Surely by now, the Chinese leadership has gained a better understanding of the dangers of space debris. This “kinetic energy kill” test of an anti-satellite weapon is the second of its kind: The United States tested a similar technique in 1985. If wisdom prevails, the Chinese test will be the last of its kind. One key element of the Stimson Center’s proposed code of conduct for responsible space-faring nations is a prohibition on using satellites for target practice.
To read more about the Stimson Center’s Space Security Program, click here.
Michael Krepon is Co-founder of the Stimson Center and the author or editor of eleven books and over 350 articles. The Space Security project seeks to promote a Code of Conduct for responsible space-faring nations and works toward stronger international norms for the peaceful uses of outer space.