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Russian anti-satellite missile test endangers space station crew – NASA

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November 16, 2021

By Idrees Ali and Steve Gorman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -An anti-satellite missile test Russia conducted on Monday generated a debris field in low-Earth orbit that endangered the International Space Station and will pose a hazard to space activities for years, U.S. officials said.

The seven-member space station crew – four U.S. astronauts, a German astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts – were directed to take shelter in their docked spaceship capsules for two hours after the test as a precaution to allow for a quick getaway had it been necessary, NASA said.

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The research lab, orbiting about 250 miles (402 km) above Earth, continued to pass through or near the debris cluster every 90 minutes, but NASA specialists determined it was safe for the crew to return to the station’s interior after the third pass, the agency said.

The crew was also ordered to seal off hatches to several modules of the International Space Station (ISS) for the time being, according to NASA.

“NASA will continue monitoring the debris in the coming days and beyond to ensure the safety of our crew in orbit,” NASA chief Bill Nelson said in the statement.

Experts say the testing of weapons that shatter satellites in orbit pose a space hazard by creating clouds of fragments that can collide with other objects, setting off a chain reaction of projectiles through Earth orbit.

THOUSANDS OF FRAGMENTS

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The Russian military and ministry of defense were not immediately available for comment. A message posted on Twitter by the Russian space agency Roscosmos downplayed the danger.

“The orbit of the object, which forced the crew today to move into spacecraft according to standard procedures, has moved away from the ISS orbit,” Roscosmos tweeted. “The station is in the green zone.”

The direct-ascent anti-satellite missile fired by Russia into one of its own satellites generated more than 1,500 pieces of “trackable orbital debris” and would likely spawn hundreds of thousands of smaller fragments, the U.S. Space Command said in a statement.

“Russia has demonstrated a deliberate disregard for the security, safety, stability and long-term sustainability of the space domain for all nations,” space command chief U.S. Army General James Dickinson said.

The debris from the missile test “will continue to pose a threat to activities in outer space for years to come, putting satellites and space missions at risk, as well as forcing more collision avoidance maneuvers,” he said.

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the missile test as “reckless and irresponsible.” At the Pentagon, spokesman John Kirby said the test showed the need to firmly establish norms of behavior in space.

“It is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts on the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts,” Nelson said. He said the cloud of debris also posed a threat to a separate Chinese space station under construction and the three-member crew of “taikonauts” aboard that outpost.

The incident came just four days after the latest group of four space station astronauts – Americans Raja Chair, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron of NASA and European Space Agency crewmate Matthias Maurer of Germany – arrived at the orbiting platform to begin a six-month science mission.

They were welcomed by three space station crew members already on board – U.S. astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov.

“Thanks for the crazy but well-coordinated day. We really appreciated all the situational awareness you gave us,” Vande Hei said in a Monday radio transmission to NASA posted online by Space.com. “It was certainly a great way to bond as a crew, starting off our very first workday in space.”

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The space station, spanning the size of an American football field end to end, has been continuously occupied since November 2000, operated by an international partnership of five space agencies from 15 countries, including Russia’s Roscosmos.

Russia is not the first country to conduct anti-satellite tests in space. The United States performed the first in 1959, when satellites were rare and new.

In April Russia carried out another test of an anti-satellite missile as officials have said that space will increasingly become an important domain for warfare.

In 2019, India shot down one of its own satellites in low-Earth orbit with a ground-to-space missile.

These tests have raised questions about the long-term sustainability of space operations essential to a huge range of commercial activities, from telecommunications and weather forecasting to banking and GPS services.

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(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Simon Lewis in Washington; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Stephen Coates)

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One of suspected killers of Saudi journalist Khashoggi arrested in France – RTL

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December 7, 2021

PARIS (Reuters) – One of the suspected killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was arrested at the Roissy airport near Paris on Tuesday as he was about to board a flight to Riyadh, French RTL radio reported.

RTL said the person arrested was a former Royal Guard of Saudi Arabia who is believed to have been involved in the killing of Kashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Writing by GV De Clercq, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Biden, Putin begin talks, RIA says, after U.S. warning of toughest sanctions yet if Russia invades Ukraine

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December 7, 2021

By Steve Holland and Andrew Osborn

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden began a video conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, Russian state television said, after U.S. officials warned Moscow could be hit with the toughest economic sanctions yet if it invades Ukraine.

The officials said the sanctions, which one source said could target Russia’s biggest banks and Moscow’s ability to convert roubles into dollars and other currencies, were designed to dissuade Putin from using tens of thousands of troops massed near the Ukrainian border to attack its southern neighbour.

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The Kremlin, which said before the meeting it did not expect any breakthroughs, has denied harbouring such intentions and has said its troop posture is defensive.

But Moscow has voiced rising vexation over Western military aid to Ukraine, a fellow former Soviet republic that has tilted towards the West since a popular revolt toppled a pro-Russian president in 2014, and what it calls creeping NATO expansion.

Moscow has likewise questioned Ukrainian intentions and said it wants guarantees that Kyiv will not use force to try to retake territory lost in 2014 to Russia-backed separatists, a scenario Ukraine has ruled out.

“We’re looking for good, predictable relations with the United States. Russia has never intended to attack anyone, but we have our concerns and we have our red lines,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Calling for everyone to keep “a cool head”, Peskov said it was vital that Putin and Biden speak given what he called the extraordinary escalation of tensions in Europe.

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The Russian rouble weakened slightly on Tuesday, with some market analysts predicting the talks would de-escalate tensions and others saying that the U.S. sanctions threat eroded hopes of finding common ground.

Ahead of his first direct talks with Putin since July, Biden discussed the sanctions plan with European allies on Monday, seeking a strong joint stance in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

He spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

They called on Russia to defuse tensions and return to diplomacy and said their teams would stay in close touch, including in consultation with NATO allies and EU partners, on a “coordinated and comprehensive approach”, the White House said.

Biden’s team has identified a set of economic penalties to impose should Russia launch an invasion, a senior Biden administration official said.

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A separate source familiar with the situation said targeting Putin’s inner circle has been discussed but no decision made. Sanctions against Russia’s biggest banks and curbing the conversion of roubles into dollars and other currencies were also being considered, another source said.

(Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington, Gleb Stolyarov, Dmitry Antonov, Alexander Marrow, Tom Balmforth and Katya Golubkova in Moscow, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Catherine Evans and Mark Heinrich)

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Britain reports 101 more cases of Omicron coronavirus variant

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December 7, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has found a further 101 confirmed cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the UK Health Security Agency said on Tuesday, taking the total number of cases to 437.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by William Schomberg)

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