Vice President Kamala Harris announced that the United States will refrain from conducting destructive, direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing during a visit at the Vandenburg Space Force Base Monday.
Harris visited the base one day after the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9, which contained a spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.
Harris said the commitment addresses the ongoing security threats that missile testing poses to the United States’s initiatives in space. Moving forward, Harris said she hopes to establish this commitment as a new international norm.
“I believe without clear norms, we face unnecessary risks in space,” Harris said. “The United States will continue to be a leader in order to establish, to advance and to demonstrate norms for the responsible and peaceful use of our space.”
The new order came in the wake of Russia’s direct ascent anti-satellite missile test in November, which led to the addition of at least 1,600 pieces of debris in space. The debris threatens satellites and other space objects that are vital to the economy, national security and the lives of Americans, according to Harris.
Anti-satellite missiles are weapons designed to destroy satellites and other spacecraft for tactical purposes. If these weapons are tested in space, the collisions can generate harmful debris that interferes with other satellites and pose risks to astronaut safety.
“A piece of space debris the size of a basketball, which travels at thousands of miles per hour, would destroy a satellite,” Harris said. “Even a piece of debris the size of a grain of sand could cause serious damage.”
Debris in space also poses threats to the safety of astronauts.
“These tests, to be sure, are reckless, and they are irresponsible,” Harris said. “These tests also put in danger so much of what we do in space.”
In her address, Harris called on all nations, whether spacefaring or not, to join the United States in committing to refrain from anti-satellite missile testing.
“We believe this will benefit everyone, just as space benefits everyone,” Harris said. “In the days and months ahead, we will work with other nations to establish this as a new international norm.”