By Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Tuesday it had conducted a weapons test that targeted an old Russian satellite with “razor-sharp precision” and denied allegations by the United States, Britain and NATO that the test had been dangerous for orbiting spacecraft.
U.S. officials said Monday’s test had generated a debris field in low-Earth orbit that endangered the International Space Station (ISS) and that would pose a hazard to space activities for years.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the test was reckless, posed a threat to the ISS and an orbiting Chinese spacecraft, and showed Russia was developing new weapons systems. A British government spokesperson condemned the test and urged Moscow to join discussions at the United Nations on “responsible behaviour when it comes to space.”
Russia’s Defence Ministry said the debris from the test had not posed a threat to the ISS, and that Washington knew this.
“We did indeed successfully test a promising system. It hit the old satellite with razor-sharp precision. The fragments that formed pose no threat to space activity,” Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying by the RIA news agency.
The target was a non-operational spacecraft, Tselina-D, that had been in orbit since 1982, the ministry said in a statement.
It said the United States, China and India had conducted similar tests in the past.
Russia’s space agency said the ISS’s crew had temporarily to moved into their respective spacecraft.
The Defence Ministry said Russia was forced to beef up its defence capabilities because of weapons tests by the United States and Washington establishing a space force in 2020.
Moscow said it had sought an agreement to stop weapons being deployed in space for years, but that Washington and its allies had blocked the deal at the United Nations.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow, Sabine Siebold and Robin Emmott in Brussels, Idrees Ali and Steve Gorman in Washington, and Kate Holton in London; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Catherine Evans and Timothy Heritage)