The US military says it tracked a Russian missile that was launched Wednesday with the capability of destroyingin low Earth orbit.
It doesn't appear that the missile actually struck a target, and it may have been aimed at a software-based "phantom target," according to satellite expert Jonathan McDowell at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
A statement from US Space Command noted that the test comes just two months after a pair of Russian satellites "conducted maneuvers near a U.S. Government satellite that would be interpreted as irresponsible and potentially threatening in any other domain."
This isn't the first test of a Russian anti-satellite missile. The "Nudol" missile system thought to be launched Wednesday has been tested multiple times, but has yet to target a live satellite, according to Wired.
"I conclude this was a flight test of the Nudol' anti-satellite launch vehicle from Plesetsk at about 1500 UTC, probably with a dummy kill vehicle that fell in the Laptev Sea. Likely that no actual intercept was carried out," McDowell said on Twitter.
Missile tests that actually hit a target are rare as they create all kinds of debris that can then endanger satellites and even astronauts indiscriminately. Whenin low Earth orbit with a missile last year, it was decried by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine as a "terrible, terrible thing."