America is ending anti-satellite missile tests

Simply put, these tests are dangerous, and we will not conduct them.” So said Kamala Harris, America’s vice-president, in a speech on April 18th at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Ms Harris was announcing an American ban on full-fledged testing of “direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles”—ground-launched weapons designed to blow up satellites in orbit.

Four countries—America, China, India and Russia—have conducted such tests, most recently Russia in November last year. The danger Ms Harris fears is not so much the weapons themselves, but the mess they create. Space is already full of junk: empty rocket stages, flecks of paint, nuts and bolts, toothbrushes dropped by careless astronauts and the like. It can stay aloft for decades. At orbital speeds, even small items can cause damage. The International Space Station (iss) has to dodge bits of junk roughly once a year. In June 2021 debris punched a jagged hole in one of its robotic arms.

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