The Department of Defense issued a statement Friday saying that it detected signs of what appeared to be a Russian anti-satellite weapon test from roughly 20 miles in the atmosphere near the Plesetsk space station.
“Space situational awareness data indicate debris from the test is expected to reach the International Space Station tomorrow,” the statement said. “The station crew advised of their observations and requested an official response.”
The Department of Defense said that a “small piece of the debris would be large enough to be observed by station crew members using the panoramic glass window.” It does not appear as though the crew was struck.
Russia has previously conducted such tests using practice suborbital rockets, although in this case, Russia appears to have made a successful test of an anti-satellite weapon.
Loss of satellites can seriously damage or even destroy a country’s ability to function. But officials aren’t sure exactly what was observed in this case, given the generally low-probability that this type of launch would impact the spacecraft.
Military officials said they do not know when the debris will come into contact with the station, but the 12-hour window of opportunity runs out on Saturday. Once it does, the crews of the station and the Russian robotic docking station KAB-8 will make an emergency spacewalk to remove the debris and ensure that it doesn’t hit the station or any of the thrusters it contains.