US Vice President Kamala Harris announced April 18 that the United States will ban direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile tests that create orbital debris.
“These tests are dangerous and we will not conduct them,” Harris said in a speech at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
The self-imposed U.S. ban on destructive anti-satellite weapons tests is an effort to start an international push to develop “new norms for responsible behavior in space,” she said. Harris called on every nation to do the same.
Tests like the one Russia carried out in November 2021 and China conducted in 2007 are “one of the most pressing threats to the security and sustainability of space,” she said. The destruction of space objects through direct-ascent ASAT missile testing is “reckless and irresponsible.”
These tests are intended to develop anti-satellite weapons that would be used to “deny the United States our ability to use our space capabilities,” she said.
The issue is one that's taken on greater urgency after Russia in November launched a missile to destroy a defunct Soviet-era satellite. Vice President Kamala Harris criticised the Russian action as an "irresponsible act."
The strike created more than 1,500 pieces of space debris that increased risk to U.S. and Russian astronauts aboard the International Space Station and China's Tiangong space station, according to U.S. Space Command.
Harris, who chairs the White House National Space Council, planned to discuss the U.S. commitment to bar anti-satellite missile testing and establishing norms for space during a speech on Monday evening at Vandenberg Space Force Base on the central coast of California, according to the White House.
The Russian test occurred as it was massing troops ahead of its latest invasion of Ukraine. The more than seven-week-old war has left thousands dead and has caused to U.S. and its allies to hit Russia with massive economic sanctions.
A similar weapons test by China in 2007 also resulted in widespread debris.
"The long-lived debris created by these tests now threaten satellites and other space objects that are vital to all nations' security, economic, and scientific interests, and increases risk to astronauts in space," the White House said in a statement.
"Overall, these tests jeopardize the long-term sustainability of outer space and imperil the exploration and use of space by all nations."
Since the 1960s, the United States, China, India and Russia have conducted more than a dozen anti-satellite tests in space that destroyed satellites and created more than 6,300 pieces of orbital debris, according to the Secure World Foundation, a nongovernmental group that advocates for sustainable and peaceful uses of outer space.
At least 4,300 pieces of that debris are still in orbit today and pose long-term threats to human spaceflight, science and national security missions, and the future economic development of space, according to the foundation.
Anti-satellite missile tests by the U.S. in 2008 as well as one by India in 2019 targeted satellites at much lower altitudes, well below the space station at about 260 miles (420 kilometers).
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the destruction of a satellite in low-earth orbit by missile was meant to demonstrate India's capacity as a "space power" alongside the US, Russia and China. He ordered the launch weeks before national elections.
The defunct Russian satellite Cosmos 1408 was orbiting about 40 miles (65 kilometers) higher when it was destroyed in November by a missile fired from northern Russia.
Separately, the White House has continued to promote the Artemis Accords, an international agreement on space cooperation drafted by NASA and the State Department during the Trump administration. To date, 18 countries have signed the accords, with nine joining since President Joe Biden took office.