After Russia’s detonation late last year of a dead satellite which resulted in an expanding mass of space-junk that threatened the crew of the ISS, reporting suggests that American Vice President Kamala Harris is set to announce that the US will avoid testing direct-ascent anti-satellite weapons designed to destroy orbiting satellites.
China had conducted a similar missile test in 2007, but had not carried out another one since then. The language out of the VP’s office suggests that the action in the interest of “the security and sustainability of space” are meant to reset norms, in the hopes that it will also discourage the tests by rival states.
The debris created by such blasts not only poses a risk to manned crews in lower orbit but also satellite equipment which forms the infrastructure not only for modern telecommunications, but for all transportation, through GPS.
Similar concerns have been raised over Elon Musk’s Starlink, which aims to launch hundreds of cheap satellites into space, but without proper planning on how to decommission them when they inevitably fail and must leave orbit. The potential consequences of dozens or even hundreds of inactive satellites in uncontrolled orbit may lead near-earth orbit to become to unstable to launch or maintain existing satellites, potentially GPS, satellite communication, or even space travel as we know it.
Without forming a unified international regulation structure for space, it seems unlikely that unilateral statements from the US government will do much to prevent the proliferation of this debris, low popularly labelled as “space junk.”