Germany commits in Geneva not to conduct anti-satellite direct-ascent missile tests

Sentinel-1B-satellite of the European Space Agency

“Sentinel-1B”-satellite of the European Space Agency, © ESA/ATG medialab

13.09.2022 - Article

Debris from destroyed satellites can render low-orbit space no longer usable. Today, Germany became one of the first countries in the world to commit not to conduct anti-satellite missile tests.

Politically binding voluntary commitment

In April of this year, the United States took the diplomatic initiative and made a politically binding voluntary commitment not to conduct destructive ground-based anti-satellite missile tests in future. Canada and New Zealand have since followed suit.

Germany has never carried out tests of this nature and made its own politically binding voluntary commitment today. The German representative at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament in Geneva declared during a session of the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats through Norms, Rules and Principles of Responsible Behaviour:

Germany commits not to conduct any destructive anti-satellite direct-ascent missile tests.

Space debris poses a threat to civilian space activities

Satellites are extremely vulnerable and exposed to an increasing number of threats. Weapons not only raise the risk of misunderstandings and escalation, for instance because tests can easily be taken for a genuine attack, but also result in space debris. The debris, which – depending on the altitude – remains in low orbit for decades or centuries before it finally burns up in the atmosphere, seriously infringes on the peaceful use of space on a permanent basis. Even small splinters can pose a deadly threat to astronauts.

The last destructive test of a ground-based anti-satellite missile was carried out by Russia in late 2021. Shooting down an own satellite resulted in more than 1500 pieces of debris, many of which will remain in orbit for several years.

Satellite technology is essential in a modern economy

The Sentinel-2-satellite of the European Space Agency
The “Sentinel-2”-satellite of the European Space Agency© Airbus DS

Free and unhindered access to space is crucial to our daily lives, economies and our security. Satellite communication makes possible global connectivity, while satellite navigation is indispensable to aviation and maritime transport. Earth observation satellites are key aids in the fight against the climate crisis, for they enable us to seamlessly monitor changes to our planet and to recognise at an early stage where irreversible damage could be done.

Germany is committed to strengthening the rules-based order in space

For some time now, Germany has been working within the United Nations to reduce threats through the responsible behaviour of states in space. With German support, a working group on the threats and risks in space, for example operations bringing satellites closer to other satellites, was set up last year. Germany is working with partners to draw up clear principles and rules to increase transparency, establish communication channels and minimise the risks of escalation in the use of space.


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