LUBBOCK, Texas — On Monday, Russia sent a missile to destroy one of the country’s old satellites, blasting debris into Earth’s orbit and causing astronauts in the International Space Station to take shelter.
This led to condemnation from the United States and the international space research community. Texas Tech professor Dr. Alexander Salter, who researches the economics of space, is among those speaking out, saying Russia’s action threatened the use of space for all humanity.
“All at once, I was worried about the international ramifications. I was wondering what the U.S. Government would do in response, and at the same time, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to write something about this,'” said Dr. Salter, Tech’s Georgie G. Snyder associate professor of Economics.
Salter has published several articles and scholarly works on the topic, and he wrote an opinion piece in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal in response to the anti-satellite test. You can read his article here.
Salter said space debris — or space junk — has been a big issue since the dawn of the Space Age, and Russia’s test has just made it much worse. NASA defines “space debris” as any human-made object in orbit about the Earth that no longer has a useful purpose.
“[Space debris] can be an old piece of a rocket body. It can be a satellite that was in use that we’re just not using anymore,” Salter said.
Space junk travels at roughly 17,000 miles per hour, so any collision could be catastrophic.
“Even pieces that are too small to track can really cause serious damage or outright destroy a space asset,” Salter said.
That includes destroying critical infrastructures, such as satellites or space stations. He also pointed out that Russia’s test this week wasn’t even the first. India conducted one in 2019, China in 2007, and the U.S. in 1985.
“The spacefaring nations are already treating orbit like a junkyard, and we can’t afford to have all this extra junk up there cluttering orbit … It’s really worrying to think about orbit being so cluttered with junk that we can’t even send up rockets or satellites,” Salter said.
However, Salter offers a solution — he envisions a treaty to reduce future anti-satellite tests. He said the U.S. should lead the way, using its status as the global leader in the Space Race to pressure other countries to follow suit.
He hopes that technology can soon be developed to be able to remove space junk from orbit safely.
“The only way that we have forward is for the spacefaring nations to come together and make an agreement strictly limiting future anti-satellite tests,” Salter said.