back to article Russia's orbital insanity is almost beyond redemption – but there's space for improvement

International politics proves Homo sapiens' kinship with purple-arsed baboons. There is yelling, there is exaggerated gesture, there is much ballistic propulsion of poo. The point to it all is surprisingly laudable: avoid actual conflict by play-acting it out. Last week, though, the anger was burning hot and entirely genuine. …

  1. Pen-y-gors

    Yeah but yes, but no, but...

    Utter insanity, yes. But probably fewer 'orbital fragments' from the explosion than will be launched in the next few years by Musk, Bezos and co. The sky will be so bright we can turn off the street-lights, and have fun watching the celestial pin-ball as the Starlink satellites bounce off all the other networks.

    1. S4qFBxkFFg

      Re: Yeah but yes, but no, but...

      I can't remember what altitude the Kuiper (Amazon) ones use, but Starlink (SpaceX) uses an altitude which is deep enough in the upper atmosphere that even a dud satellite will naturally deorbit within months/years. I suppose it could be a problem if a satellite had its engine "stuck" while thrusting prograde but that's probably considered considered sufficiently unlikely the authorities are OK with it. Oneweb satellites are another matter, I think one of them has failed already, at 1200km up, so it will be interesting to see how they get it down.

    2. midgepad

      Re: Yeah but yes, but no, but...

      Physics doesn't work that way.

      Sun is a million miles across, moon is large, Earth casts a shadow.

    3. MatelotJim

      Re: Yeah but yes, but no, but...

      Errmmm... No it doesn't work like that. Back to troll school for you.

  2. herman Silver badge

    A satellite orbit is a very highly tweaked affair to get it circular. A wildly energetic disturbance is bound to make the orbits of the parts very elliptical and then it should hit thicker parts of the atmosphere more and come down sooner.

    1. S4qFBxkFFg

      You can look at the simulations and see what's happening:

      For some fragments, what you say is true, but for some it's the equivalent of being boosted higher. Overall, it's much worse than keeping it in one big lump which is slowly deorbiting anyway.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      The problem is what they hit on the way down. And then what the fragments of what they hit on the way down also hit. And so on.

  3. YetAnotherJoeBlow

    Look, we get it. We've seen you use military-grade neurotoxins to kill our civilians going about their daily business. We've seen the downed civilian aircraft, collateral damage of your illegal invasions. We've seen your murderous friends kept in power by any means, the fallout of misery on your own people as much as on anyone else's from the oligarchal infighting and careless brutality in the service of power.

    That sums it up rather nicely.

    1. casaloco

      Wait... wut?

      No, this was RUSSIA, not America.

      1. Tomato42

        Re: Wait... wut?

        ¿Por qué no los dos?

        Also, you could come with something newer than "whattaboutism" after over 50 years of use...

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "That sums it up rather nicely."

      Yeah, but what did the Romans Russians ever do for us?

      1. EricB123 Silver badge


        Well, if it wasn't for the Russians, america might have never had manned space missions.

    3. dvhamme

      Should be a bit careful with the neurotoxin argument, as it is entirely clear once you delve into the Skripal case that the official British government narrative is a fabrication. I do not know what happened, but I am certain neither does the register or YetAnotherJoeBlow.

  4. oiseau

    Get it?

    Look, we get it.

    Do you?


    We've seen you use military-grade neurotoxins to kill our civilians going about their daily business. We've seen the downed civilian aircraft, collateral damage of your illegal invasions. We've seen your murderous friends kept in power by any means, the fallout of misery on your own people as much as on anyone else's from the oligarchal infighting and careless brutality in the service of power. We get it.

    While not an endorsement of this new space billiards game, I have to ask:

    Just which of the two heavyweight post WWII military powers are you referring to?

    Because it is easy to get confused as both have been equally adept at all the activities you point out.


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Get it?

      The author makes the case for a nation-state led campaign to clean the orbit. The Powers That Be™ however reign at those altitudes the same way they do far below: we sell our shit and won't care for the consequences. Then, we'll make everybody else's business cleaning it.

      It's cheaper and more profitable in the long term to sell single use stuff. It's just not cheaper and profitable for everyone. And most of the assholes moving money way above our pay grades don't care about the consequences, beyond those immediate ones regarding their revenue streams.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Get it?

        Laser brooms have been postulated for a while. The problem is that anyone who demonstrates one also demonstrates the ability to bring down other people's satellites by stealth

        It needs to be a neutral, open effort

        1. Sanguma

          Re: Get it?

          It needs to be a neutral, open effort

          Precisely. That's why the international Maritime Salvage legal regime needs to be adapted to Earth orbit - because salvage companies operate for commercial, not national security reasons. And other, equally sane reasons such as keeping the coasts clean from a maritime disaster resulting from some doofus parking his big shiny ship on a reef ...

          Of course, they'd need to operate in harmony with the national space agencies, but that's no different from national shipping registries ... and you'd have the likes of Lloyds of London to sort out the insurance details and the payments, etc. No alarms and no surprises.

    2. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Get it?

      .....and here come the "Fancy Bear" newzbots.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Get it?

      When has US used nerve agents on civilians of other country?

      Not rhetorical question: interested if they have.

      1. a pressbutton

        Re: Get it?

        interested if they have.


        Arguably agent orange on Vietnam although it was not designed not kill, it was designed to defoliate but was known to be poisonous.

        it injured 1m-3m people and an unknown number of deaths.

        it needs to be remembered that this was in the 60s and in an era where DDT was widely used

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Black Helicopters

          Re: Get it?

          Certainly would not defend use of agent orange in Vietnam. But it is not a nerve agent which is what I was looking for. Also that was in actual hot war, and in many such awful and inexcusable things are done which very clearly will kill civilians but which somehow do not result in war crimes prosecutions: too many examples to list.

          So I will refine question: has US used nerve agents (specifically such) at all, and specifically against civilians?

          (Auxiliary question: who else has? Pretty sure nerve agents been used by Syria (sarin) and also North Korea (VX).)

          Note again: am not trying to defend US here: they used nuclear weapons against civilians! Do confess to some anti-Russian (USSR in fact) bias as have relatives I might have met if not for them but that is past.

          However again please note am not trying to start a fight here. None of these things is OK.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @the small snake - Re: Get it?

            It's OK to side with the US here. Somebody has to be on their side. Also, you're not starting a fight, somebody else started it long before. As for hate, well we all need to hate someone or something.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Get it?

            I read a Tom Clancy book called teeth of the tiger where the protagonists killed someone like that, and I think they worked for the US government.

            And it was Tom Clancy so definitely fact.

            (Honestly not one of his better ones - never managed to top Red Storm Rising or Without Remorse in my book)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Get it?

          Agent Orange was not even slightly similar.

          They were negligent towards the health of civilians (both in the war zone, and their own around the factories that made it), and their own soldiers.

          That has almost nothing in common with murdering enemies.

          1. Zolko Silver badge

            Re: Get it?

            They were negligent towards the health of civilians

            negligent is it what you call when an army drops megatons of chemicals onto civilians ? And you dare to call this lame excuse as compared with the – questionable and still unproven – attempted (Skripals and Navalny all got away unharmed) murder on a couple of individuals ?

            negligent ? Like in "we dropped an atomic bomb to see what happens, but unfortunately we forgot that it might actually cause harm to the health of some people".

            negligent, is that the new excuse for "collateral damage" ?

            is it also "negligent" to use depleted uranium ammunition, that will cause harm for years to come even after the war is over ? Is it also "negligent" to use cluster-bombs that leaves small explosives behind that mutilate people years after the war is over ?

            How fascist someone must be to call-off as "negligence" such large-scale atrocities !!! Words fail me.

        3. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: Get it?

          "and in an era where DDT was widely used"

          Not just to kill people in a faraway war, they also used it to clean beaches. My mother remembers tractors on the beaches of Ocean City at sunrise spraying it all over the place.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Get it?

        No idea about foreign civilians but the USA is documented tested biological agents on civilian populations in the New York Subways and nerve agents in San Francisco bay

        The real story behind alien cattle mutilations proves truth is stranger than fiction too - secretly tracing radioactive fallout clouds to see their effects on cattle and people (it also shows smart people can do really dumb things. If they'd bought the livers and thyroids at a local abbatoir there'd have been no eyebrows raised)

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: Get it?

          I heard that the nuke testing took place in Nevada because it was "useful science" to see what happened with the fallout, that often ended up all over Utah.

          But these days there's so much crap and misinformation for idiotic political points scoring, that I'm inclined to take that with a pinch of salt large enough to trigger hypernatremia.

        2. trindflo Bronze badge
          Big Brother

          Re: Get it?

          Not sure about all the downvotes. I'm not fond of conspiracy theories, but there is some fairly awful stuff that went on during the cold war:

          Intentionally feeding radioactive metals to children:

          And more generally

          This stuff is documented at the US department of energy website as a mea culpa.

          And I think syphilis would count as a biological agent; also pretty well documented.

          I'd not heard that explanation for the "chupacabra" mutilations; ham-fisted autopsies are one of the more believable explanations I've heard; the other being "bloat".

      3. Kabukiwookie

        Re: Get it?

        Agent Orange in Vietnam. Both US soldiers were affected (and essentially discarded by its owb govt), while babies with deformities were born in Vietnam decades.

    4. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Re: Get it?

      Just which of the two heavyweight post WWII military powers are you referring to?

      One is slightly more brutal than the other one. Killing journalists, closing opposing TV networks, putting opponents in prison isn't that common in the US. One could also argue that the US didn't annex or occupy any territory from its neighbours since a long time. Crimea, but also South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria, the list is getting long. So there may be no nice guys, but some are worse than others.

      Russia can do whatever it wants risking few reactions. For instance, Europe relies on Russian gas, and will more and more thanks to the ecolo-hippies across the continent wanting to close nuclear power stations at all cost. We will have beautiful speeches, but no action.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Potemkine! - Re: Get it?

        One prominent US friend does this (more or less) but nobody seems to lose any sleep on that. I wonder what's so special about Russia. Do you have a theory that might work here ? How does US chose where to get involved and when to look the other way ?

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: @Potemkine! - Get it?

          "How does US chose where to get involved and when to look the other way ?"

          $$$ ?

  5. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    The use case isn't just to shoot down your opponents sats. When the US did it, it was to stop anyone being able to look at any bits that survive after deorbiting. (I think the excuse that hydrazine would've survived re-entry to pose a problem on the ground is a bit weak).

    With the emergence of sats to perform on-orbit inspection, I see the possibility of someone deciding that they don't want someone else looking at something already in orbit. Let's hope that none decides that to avoid that they want to obliterate more sats. The correct solution is send something up to de-orbit them; which also reduced reduces what is up there.

    1. stiine Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      If that's true, then the US shouldn't be putting satellites in orbit that we don't want Russia, China, India, and all other space-capable countries, from being able to examine. Worst case, they could launch a self-deorbiting, re-entry-safe capsule to grab a KH-11 and bring it home.

  6. Al fazed

    Russia bashing

    Ahem, it's not too long ago that NASA proudly announced it's abillity to toss old equipment ( 1 piece = 9 tonnes apparently) into space using a robotic arm.

    Well score none for the fucking robots............

    I wonder if Artificial Intelligence is at work !

    OK, I'll get my space suit..........


    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Russia bashing

      I have no idea what you're referring to here.

  7. casaloco

    Use them?

    Russia doesn't have these missiles so it can use them.

    It has them so America can't use theirs.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Russia doesn't have these missiles so it can use them.

      Oh, good. Thank the stars that the Russians didn't use one last week after all.


    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Use them?

      it's a bit like nukes in space

      The Americans and Russians both let them off in the 1950s to see what would happen and realised it was such a spectacularly bad idea that they were all happy to agree to ban ever doing it again (Arguably the soviet ones caused more problems than the american ones, wiping out power and telecommunications across a large part of central Asia instead of just Hawaii)

      1. Sanguma

        Re: Use them?

        it's a bit like nukes in space

        And then Ronald Raygun, the Third Ronnie, actually had the ineffible intelligence to suggest GRASERs - gamma ray amplification by stimulated emission of radiation - to shoot down ballistic missiles. And as we know, weapons need to be tested ... how many aircraft flying from Europe to the US and vice versa, would've gone down with inoperative electronics and electrical equipment - eg, fuel pumps - if he had ordered GRASER tests over the Atlantic?

        A plan so cunning you could stick it in your trousers and call it ... anything you like except late for dinner ...

        1. Schultz

          ...gamma ray amplification by stimulated emission of radiation...

          Surely, a functional graser is right around the corner. Attosecond XUV pulses already reached the 100 eV regime, so it's just a question of decades. Unfortunately the pulse energy will be stuck in the range between 'undetectable' and quite tiny. Not they way to go if you want to make things go kaboooom or fussssh.

  8. Roger Kynaston

    Can we update Dr Strangelove?

    Anti satellite missiles sound a bit like the doomsday device. Their use could (would?) trigger a cascading catastrophe.

    There is even an IT angle since Group Captain Mandrake was running the computers in the film.

    Obvious icon.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Can we update Dr Strangelove?

      If the Cold War ever turns hot (No, the cold war hasn't ended, it just went even colder for a few dozen years), one of the first things that will happen is both sides either selectively destroying all known opposing nav, ELINT, comms and ground observation satellites by use of ASAT weapons or just an indiscriminant destruction of all such sats by use of a few nuke detonations in space. If either side is going to launch a large scale attack the last thing either wants is the other side having GPS/GLONASS, intelligence or communications. There's a reason most military doctrine is still relying on NOT using space based systems. Those are usually considered a "nice to have" but not a "will definitely be available".

    2. sebacoustic

      Re: Can we update Dr Strangelove?

      Dr Strangelove is perfect and as such does not require updating. But its premise is somewhat pertinent here.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Have to wonder

    Do USSRRussia have enough satellites in orbit that they can cause probable Kessler event by destroying only their own satellites? Are they then willing to lose LEO in order that everyone else should lose LEO? Russian traditional approach to winning wars has been to accept losses greater than opponent would believe possible.

    1. thames

      Re: Have to wonder

      From what I've read about it in the international press is that the Russians did it as a demonstration of capability. The US had publicly pooh-poohed the newest Russian anti-satellite weapons as not being able to do this sort of thing, so the Russians responded with "oh really? just watch me".

      Russia and China have both previously proposed an anti-satellite weapons ban but the US have turned the idea down flat as they think they can win a "space war" and have said they don't want anything that would restrict what they can do.

      In any sort of major war between countries with both satellites and anti-satellite weapons, the anti-satellite weapons will be used and we will be talking about scores if not hundreds or even thousands of satellites being destroyed in this manner. People had better get used to the idea, because it's inevitable.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Have to wonder

        Agree that this is likely thing: best way to show you have a working weapon is to show your weapon working. Also agree that these will be used in a serious war.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Have to wonder

        Indeed. The Chinese were the first to destroy one of their satellites with a ASAT weapon in 2007 and the US responded by destroying one of theirs in 2008. India followed in 2019. Israel has an exoatmosphere ABM that could also function as an ASAT but have not tested it in that role. Russia will probably not be the last.

        1. fg_swe Bronze badge

          First ASAT Kill: USAF

 height 555km.

          So in other words, tears of crocodile.

          1. Paul Kinsler

            Re: So in other words, tears of crocodile.

            There may indeed be some crocodiles out there, but it might be of interest to consider that not everyone commenting here & elsewhere has themselves actually gone around blowing up satellites in orbit with ASAT missiles; even if - in a very few cases - the military in their country has.

            I'm pretty sure I haven't for example, and if for some reason it ever seemed like I did, that was only yet another poorly designed and executed Kerbal Space Program mission.

    2. stiine Silver badge

      Re: Have to wonder

      Why would you assume that they'd only target their own satellites??? I presume that they'd pick the dozen that would cause the most destruction to their opponents orbiting assets without regard to their own. If they, instead of using impactors, use tugs, they could target 1/2 of their targets and use the tugs to impact the second half with the first half. All of the tech has already been demonstrated, for better or worse.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Have to wonder

        Firing missiles at other country's satellites is act of war. At your own might not be.

        1. zuckzuckgo

          Re: Have to wonder

          Except one might consider the resulting debris from the collision as the intended weapon. Like setting up a minefield in international waterways.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Have to wonder

        Again detonating nuclear weapon in space is act of war. Idea was can they do something short of war which is nonetheless catastrophic.

        1. veti Silver badge

          Re: Have to wonder

          "Act of war" is one of those terms that sounds legalistic, but doesn't actually have any real definition.

          In practice the usage is simple. If you want to start a war, you say that (something the other party has done or is doing) "was an act of war", and therefore you're now at war. It's not the act that's significant, it's the description of the act. If you don't want to start a war, you simply don't use that phrase.

          1. khjohansen

            Re: Have to wonder

            *** Remember the Maine!! ***

          2. Zolko Silver badge

            Re: Have to wonder

            @veti: re-act-of-war

            yes, exactly. You can commit factual acts-of-war – like bombing your neighbor country – and call it "preventive self-defense " and then it's not officially an act of war. On the other side, a government can also formally call out a war against an invisible enemy – like a virus – and then the country is effectively in a situation of war, including all the curfew and mass-surveillance and restrictions of liberties, even if there is no opponent and not a single fired bullet.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Have to wonder

      Doesn't matter. It only takes 2 nukes in space to pretty much cripple everything that's up there

  10. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

    Slight correction

    I wish they had "blown the satellite out of orbit." Would be so much preferable to blowing it up in orbit.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Never look back.

    If only there was an agreement banning anti-ballistic missile defenses in force between the US and the Russia.

  12. Joe Gurman


    Putin's Russia has made an art of it, on the ground, in the air, in space. What else would you expect from a former (not very good) KGByushnik?

    1. fg_swe Bronze badge

      Re: Thuggism

      Back in the world of grown-ups, we should better freeze both Ukraine and Taiwan into place.

      Instead of all the childish talk and childish action, which could result in very nasty consequences.

      They also have long-range, nuclear armed cruise missiles, which are nigh on impossible to intercept.

      1. fg_swe Bronze badge

        Re: Thuggism

        This is just one type of them:

      2. herman Silver badge

        Re: Thuggism

        Well, if you shut the gas supply, then Ukraine will freeze in place pretty soon.

  13. sokolnik

    Orbital stuff at different speeds?

    Pardon me, I slept through fifth-grade science. Can anyone give an explanation, suitable for a dull-witted lay-person, how stuff in orbit can travel at different speeds, without propulsion?

    1. Dr. Ellen

      Re: Orbital stuff at different speeds?

      That's simple: there are lots of orbits, each with its own speed. Not only that, but a different speed can be associated with different positions on the same orbit.

    2. fg_swe Bronze badge

      Re: Orbital stuff at different speeds?

      An elliptic orbit will even have position-/time-dependent velocity in the same object. You can have any number of different elliptic orbits, any number of circular orbits in different heights and any number of inclinations relative to the equator. And combinations of those. All of those usually have differing speed at the same time.

      1. sokolnik

        Re: Orbital stuff at different speeds?

        Thank you both. And I thought the movie "Gravity" was kerfluffle. I'm old as dirt, a child of the "space-race", and should know better. Thanks again.

      2. Manx Cat

        Re: Orbital stuff at different speeds?

        Puzzle me this.

        If SatNav is broken, how can the pizza delivery function?

    3. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Orbital stuff at different speeds?

      Wikipedia has a rather nice graphic of this for Kepler's second law. Replace the planet with a satellite, and the sun with the earth, and the same holds.

      In layman's terms an elliptical orbit means the distance to the earth varies. So as you get nearer, you are falling towards the earth - and your speed accelerates. And as you sling round the earth, the earth tugs at you and you slow down.

      It's another variation on the physics teacher's ice skater angular momentum - they get faster when they pull in their arms and slow down as they push them out. (If you have a spinable office chair and some space you might be able to demonstrate this. I've just knocked some things off trying.)

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If I was a state being bullied by the 'international rules based order' aka 'do what we tell you or we'll murder you' I'd use this as a deterrant. Why go to the expense of developing and building nuclear weapons, when the asymmetric threat of launching a few tonnes of sand and blowing it up could achieve the same deterrent effect, without killing a single human? Don't mess with us, or we'll cause trillions of dollars of direct damage, tens of trillions of dollars in economic damage, completely destroy your beyond horizon c&c and surveillance capability, knock out gps, and completely deny your access to space indefinitely, should be Iran's response the next time the USA starts beating their war drum.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Iran isn't developing nuclear weapons.

      On the other hand, what makes you think they AREN'T developing sandbags in orbit as a weapon?

  15. herman Silver badge

    The Earth’s speed around the sun is also not constant and that of the Moon much more so. The Moon wobbles so badly, that it appears to rotate around the Earth…

  16. xyz123 Silver badge

    Russia has been saying for over 2 years it wants out of the ISS due to costs but legal treaties prevented this. Now it just gave itself the perfect "protecting our cosmonauts" excuse.......

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Stupid missile

    If it had been any good it would have attached to the satellite and de-orbitted it.

    Really good missile would have landed the wreckage in a designated area.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Starlink ?

    Does the Starlink habit of launching a train of them into the same orbit, also mean it would be (energetically) viable for his muskiness to send Red Dwarf into that orbit, and collect / replace them all?

  19. Sanguma

    Twits will be twits ...

    I came across a little bit of anti-ASAT stuff on the InterWebs the other day, and among other things, it puts the above stupidity - turning a non-functioning satellite into space debris - into perspective - to wit:

    The hostile acts and threats of hostile acts include:

    the gratuitous production of space debris with the resulting forethought murderous threat to manned space objects, by testing anti-satellite and anti-missile weaponry in earth orbit, whether it be low earth orbit, mid earth orbit, or high earth orbit;

    That little bit of common sense has been floating around the InterWebs for over a decade, but as it's common sense, we can't expect the Powers-That-Be to take any notice, can we? That is asking too much.

  20. ClarkMills

    Kill lots of birds with one stone?

    Russia is a little annoyed with SpaceX; maybe this crapshoot is to pepper the Starlink satellites as well as test their toy?

    1. Gob Smacked

      Arms race...?

      Would become a bit wild if SpaceX just sends 60 new sats up every few days and Russia shooting their own sats to compete...

  21. rmullen0

    Good, then the oligarchs won't be able to escape

    Good. If there is enough junk flying around up there Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the rest of the oligarchs won't be able to escape to Mars after they've destroyed the Earth.

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