The United States Becomes the First Country to Ban Anti-Satellite Missile Tests

As President Joe Biden seeks to slow the spread of emerging space weapons among world powers, the United States proposed an obligatory unilateral ban on anti-satellite missile tests, calling other nations to do the same.

Vice President Kamala Harris announced its prohibition after recent satellite tests in Russia, China, and India destroyed space satellites and created toxic clouds of waste, which remain in outer space for decades. 

More nations have begun to utilize the advancement of novel space technology, resulting in more competition among global powers. With the rise of satellites as a means to communicate and perform daily tasks, US officials relate the ban with a fear of human conflict extending into space.

Anti-satellite missile tests can be dated back to the earlier days of the Cold War. Still, just in the last decade, nations such as Russia and China created modern anti-satellite missiles designed to leave satellites useless in their functions. Missiles are often the most common weapon used; however, newly developed weapons such as lasers and maneuverable aircraft are on the rise, disrupting and destroying the space systems of other nations.

“These tests are part of their efforts to develop anti-satellite weapons systems. These weapons are intended to deny the United States our ability to use our space capabilities by disrupting, destroying our satellites—satellites which are critical to our national security,” said Vice President Harris.

According to a US Space Force database, Russia conducted a test launch for an anti-satellite mission last year, hitting an inoperative spy satellite traveling in Earth’s low orbit and creating thousands of pieces of space debris. This debris further threatened already active satellites in orbit, causing United States astronauts to seek shelter and pause their work. With rising anti-satellite missile tests, necessary services used on Earth—such as GPS and weather reports—could be in danger. 

“Simply put, these tests are dangerous, and we will not conduct them,” Harris noted in her speech from the Vandenberg Space Force Base. “We are the first nation to make such a commitment.”

The announcement of these banned tests comes at a time when the United States has a strong partnership with Ukraine; US officials first raised their support for the ban of anti-satellite tests in December of last year. Yet in the long-term scheme of things, anti-satellite trials threaten the long-term sustainability of our space systems and impact the exploration of space for all nations as a whole.