Netherlands, Austria, and Italy add momentum to growing international commitment not to conduct direct-ascent anti-satellite missile tests

Thursday, April 6, 2023

SWF congratulates the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy on becoming respectively the 11th, 12th, and 13th countries to make the commitment not to conduct destructive direct-ascent antisatellite (DA-ASAT) missile tests. This is an excellent step forward in preserving the space environment for all. 

The debris created from ASAT tests can remain in orbit for years, if not decades.  Since the beginning of the Space Age, 6,851 pieces of trackable debris were created from ASAT tests; of those, 3,472 are still in orbit today and will continue to pose a collision risk to other satellites and crewed spacecraft for years to come.

All countries should be concerned about space debris from ASAT tests, as debris is agnostic in terms of whose satellites it threatens: it does not matter if the country that conducted the test is a geopolitical ally or not.  ASAT tests are also a threat to human spaceflight. They pose a collision risk to the ISS, China’s Tiangong space station, and future commercial space stations.  ASAT testing creates space debris that poses a direct threat to future economic activity in Earth orbit, especially low Earth orbit, raising the costs of current and future enterprises there and uncertainty for investors and insurers. 

Testing of ASAT weapons may increase the likelihood that governments may actually use those weapons in a conflict situation and thus damage the stability and predictability of space operations in Earth orbit. The continued testing, demonstration, or use of destructive antisatellite capabilities, including the targeting of one own’s space objects, is an unsustainable, irresponsible, and destabilizing activity in space in which no responsible spacefaring state should engage.

This commitment builds upon the resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in December 2022, “Destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing” (document A/C.1/77/62), by a recorded vote of 155 in favor to 9 against to 9 abstentions. 

With each additional country to make this commitment, the world gets closer to this becoming a widely-accepted international norm that responsible space actors do not deliberately create long-lived debris that threatens the long-term sustainability of space activities. 


The Netherlands’ statement

Austria’s statement 

Italy’s statement

Last updated on April 6, 2023