US officials condemn a Russian weapons test which created more than 1,500 pieces of space junk now 'threatening' the seven astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

An anti-satellite missile test Russia conducted, has generated a debris field in low-Earth orbit that endangered the International Space Station and will pose a hazard to space activities for years.
An anti-satellite missile test Russia conducted, has generated a debris field in low-Earth orbit that endangered the International Space Station and will pose a hazard to space activities for years. (AFP Archive)

The United States has denounced Russia for conducting a missile strike that blew up one of its own satellites, creating a debris cloud that forced the International Space Station's crew to take evasive action.

Washington officials said on Monday they weren't informed in advance about the test, only the fourth ever to hit a spacecraft from the ground, and will talk to allies about how to respond.

"The Russian Federation recklessly conducted a destructive test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile against one of its own satellites," said Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in a statement.

He added that the "dangerous and irresponsible test" had generated over 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris and will likely create hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris.

There was no immediate comment late on Monday from Russia about the missile strike.

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NASA 'outraged'

NASA administrator Bill Nelson added in a statement he was "outraged by this irresponsible and destabilising action."

"With its long and storied history in human spaceflight, it is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts on the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts" as well as Chinese "taikonauts" aboard China's space station, he said.

Earlier Monday, the four Americans, one German and two Russians on board ISS were forced to seek shelter in their docked capsules because of the debris.

They made their way to the Dragon and Soyuz spacecraft at 0700 GMT, and remained there for about two hours, NASA said. 

The ISS continues to pass near or through the cloud every 90 minutes.

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Anti-satellite test

The target of the missile was Cosmos 1408, a 1982 Soviet signals intelligence satellite that has been defunct for several decades, according to space industry analysis company Seradata.

Anti-satellite weapons (ASATs) are high-tech missiles possessed by few nations.

India was the last to carry out a test on a target in 2019, creating hundreds of pieces of "space junk" strongly criticised by other powers, including the United States.

The first objects from the debris cloud should start to enter the atmosphere within a few months, but it could be up to 10 years before it clears up entirely, a Harvard astrophysicist, Jonathan McDowell, told AFP.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies