Space Companies Join Movement to Stop Debris-Producing ASAT Tests

Space Companies Join Movement to Stop Debris-Producing ASAT Tests

Today the Secure World Foundation announced that 26 space companies from 10 countries have signed a statement supporting international efforts to stop direct-ascent antisatellite tests that create space debris that imperils commercial space activities. The statement urges more countries to make the commitment not to launch DA-ASAT tests and SWF encourages more companies to sign the statement to help ensure predictability, sustainability, and safety in space.

The companies are based in Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Netherlands, Japan, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

SWF coordinated and facilitated the effort and released the statement today in conjunction with a webinar featuring representatives from four of the companies: Astroscale Japan (Japan), Digantara (India), Planet (U.S.), and Axiom Space (U.S.).


Victoria Samson, SWF’s Director of Space Security and Stability, explained that the statement builds on more than 18 months of efforts to win commitments from countries around the world to not conduct these types of ASAT tests.

Vice President Kamala Harris started the ball rolling in April 2022 by vowing that the United States will not launch such tests. The pledge does not apply to all ASAT tests, only those that destroy another object. Tests can be conducted against a point in space instead, for example.

DA-ASAT tests involve launching a missile from Earth to directly hit a satellite. The kinetic energy caused by the impact destroys the satellite, creating debris that flies away in random directions. Depending on the altitude of the interception, the debris can remain in orbit for years or decades threatening other space objects including crewed space stations.

SWF maintains a spreadsheet showing how many ASAT-related pieces of debris have been created over the decades and how many are still there. China’s 2007 test created the most (3,536 pieces) and the vast majority (2,786) are still in orbit. Russia’s 2021 test was the most recent, but the United States and India have also conducted such tests. SWF’s annual Global Counterspace Capabilities report provides details.

Harris encouraged other countries to join the pledge and 36 have done so to date including all the members of the European Union. In addition, in December 2022 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution by a vote of 155-9-9 calling upon countries not to conduct DA-ASAT tests. The United States was the only country that has conducted such tests to vote in favor, however. China and Russia voted no. India abstained.

All that DA-ASAT debris and so much more from other space activities pose a threat not only to government space operations, but those of the private sector.

In their statement today, the companies noted “the growing societal reliance on space applications and services” and ongoing voluntary commitments by satellite operators “to avoid the intentional creation of space debris and to safely de-orbit satellite systems at end-of-life” before expressing appreciation to the countries that have agreed to the no DA-ASAT pledge.

We the undersigned members of the global space industry, including operators of space systems, providers of space-based services, and users of space-derived services, state our support of such commitments. We encourage additional countries to make similar declarations. — Industry Statement

The companies that have signed so far include communications, remote sensing, space situational awareness, debris removal, and commercial space stations.

Source: Secure World Foundation

Jared Stout, Vice President for Government and External Relations for commercial orbital human space flight company Axiom Space, said the orbital environment is a “resource and like any resource it relies on judicious management to ensure its long term utility.”

Axiom launches private astronauts to the International Space Station on SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and is building a commercial space station that begins with modules attached to the ISS that eventually become free-flying.  ISS was threatened by debris from Russia’s 2021 ASAT test and although much of the debris now has reentered, it was a wake-up call.

“The work that we will do in space requires humans. To ensure their safety it is critical that all spacefaring nations and those aspiring to access space stand up against irresponsible behavior. Together, we can ensure that these dangerous and unnecessary weapons do not risk destabilizing our orbital environment and threatening human safety.”  — Jared Stout, Axiom Space

The statement remains open for signature by more companies. Samson stressed that the point is to encourage more countries to sign the pledge and make sure “the space environment is predictable, sustainable, and safe for the long term.”


This article has been updated (changing the punctuation in the first line of Jared Stout’s quote).

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