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Russia's Anti-Satellite test; Interview with Astroscale COO Chris Blackerby; Devastating flooding in Parts of U.S., Canada. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired November 18, 2021 - 02:00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Ahead this hour here on CNN NEWSROOM. An apparent e-mail from a missing Chinese tennis star raising even more concerns for her safety. Tennis officials say they highly doubt it was written by doubles champion Peng Shuai.

Europe ramps up pandemic restrictions as infections surge even in one country where more than 90 percent of all adults are fully vaccinated.

Also ahead, Russia blows an old satellite to pieces adding even more debris to an orbiting junkyard, raising concerns of how to clean up that mess.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with John Vause.

VAUSE: More than two weeks now, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has not been seen in public, there's been no proof of life ever since she disappeared shortly after accusing a former Vice Premier a top official within the Communist Party of sexual assault.

But now, the government control China Global Television Network has released what it claims is an e-mail from ping in which she says she's fine, never made any allegations about sexual assault.

If that e-mail was an attempt to make this story go away, it has been a resounding failure. Officials with professional tennis quickly called it out for what it was, highly unbelievable. saying it only raises concerns for Peng's safety.

Details now from CNN's Ivan Watson.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The royalty of professional tennis expressing concern about the welfare of one of their own.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC, PRO-TENNIS PLAYER: Honestly, it's shocking, you know, that she's missing. WATSON: Warnings echoed by other champions past and present.

I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and OK, writes Naomi Osaka, adding #WhereisPengShuai.

I've known Peng since she was 14, writes Chris Evert. Where is she?

Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis champion --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Peng Shuai moves into the quarterfinals.

WATSON: -- hasn't been seen or heard from in weeks.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: This is really extraordinary. A top athlete, 35 years old, a name that a lot of people know, formerly number one ranked doubles player in the world just goes missing? Gone?

WATSON: In early November, Peng published this bombshell post on her Chinese social media account, an open letter to a former top communist leader named Zhang Gaoli, now aged 75 who Peng accuses of sexually assaulting her after the two had an affair.

Why did you have to come back to me, take me to your home to force me to have sex with you? The post reads.

Yes, I did not have any evidence and it was simply impossible to have evidence.

CNN cannot independently confirm these allegations, and we've reached out to Peng as well as Zhang and his wife through the Chinese government for further comment with no results.

Shortly after the controversial post, Peng's online profile more or less disappeared.

Until recently, Peng Shuai was one of the biggest tennis stars in China. But look what happens when you try to search for people with her name in the Chinese internet. You get the message: no results found. Censors have all but scrubbed this woman from the Chinese internet.

On Thursday, Chinese state media released this e-mail purportedly written by Peng to the head of the Women's Tennis Association. It completely disavows the previous allegations of sexual assault, adding, I'm not missing nor am I unsafe and I hope Chinese tennis will become better and better.

WTA Chairman Steve Simon responded in writing saying the statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts. I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the e-mail we received.

WATSON: Unable to communicate directly with Peng despite multiple attempts. He's calling for independent and verifiable proof that this Chinese tennis star is safe.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.


VAUSE: For more now, Kristie Lu Stout live in Hong Kong.

So, Kristie around the world, you know, the reaction to this e-mail has been sort of a mix of derision and total skepticism. But what about inside China? What's the reaction there?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): You know, it's really interesting because the screencap of this e-mail, it was released by the English language Chinese state-run news network, CGTN. They released it on Twitter, which is not available inside Mainland China. They did not release it on Sina Weibo on the social media platform widely available inside China. It was not picked up by other state run or domestic media outlets.

In fact, this case, the story of Peng Shuai has been under blanket censorship ever since she made that accusation against Zhang Gaoli two weeks ago on November the 2nd.

But that being said, there is immense interest inside Mainland China about this story. She is a national sporting icon. She is a hero in China, two-time Grand Slam champion in doubles tennis winning in Wimbledon also the French Open as well.


STOUT: And this also comes during a time when China has been having its own Me Too moment. A number of women in China are saying that they have had enough with sexist behavior. They want to hear more about what has happened to her.

An interesting note, we've learned that Naomi Osaka Of course, you saw the tweet that she sent out the other day, or Naomi Osaka, she expressed support for Peng Shuai with the #WhereisPengShuai. A number of Chinese netizens went to her Weibo account to just say thank you.

And what we've seen today is all those comments saying thank you to Naomi Osaka have been wiped out. They've been censored, and no one could add any additional comments this day, John.

VAUSE: You mentioned the other cases, the other mean two cases within Mainland China. In the past, they were not censored unlike this. But then again, I guess the accused person carrying out the sexual harassment wasn't a senior member of the Politburo.

STOUT: Yes, very critical difference here. You know, it was earlier this year when you had the Canadian Chinese Popstar Kris Wu, he was detained by Chinese police after several women came forward and accused him of sexual assault.

You also had the litter case earlier this year Alibaba, the e-commerce giant fired a male executive after another employee -- female employee stepped forward and accused him of sexual assault in hotel room. For a while, it appeared that China was taking these cases seriously and allowing people to talk about it openly on social media in China and allowing media outlets in China to report on these stories, not the case with Zhang Gaoli and Peng Shuai.

In fact, just the opposite. It appears that Beijing is saying it is not going to accept any external criticism of members of his political elite, John.

VAUSE: Kristie, thank you. Kristie Lu Stout there live for us in Hong Kong. Some very good details and analysis on what's going on. Thank you.

Christine Brennan is a CNN Sports Analyst and sports columnist for USA Today. And it's been a while, it's good to see you.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Great to see you, John. Thanks.

VAUSE: You're welcome. Now, just as this story was gaining a lot of global attention, suddenly, unexpectedly, what do you know? No one saw this one coming. An e-mail from Peng herself to the boss of the Women's Tennis Association creating an earlier statement from the WTO.

Now, this e-mail reads in part, the news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault is not true. I'm not missing, nor am I unsafe. I've just been resting at home and everything is fine.

So, the man who received that e-mail Steve Simon was not convinced and said in a release -- a press release: only -- it only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts. I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the e-mail we received or believes what is being attributed to her.

Clearly, what was an attempt to make the scandal go away has only brought more attention and made matters worse for officials in China.

BRENNAN: Oh, absolutely. And the WTA's response was terrific, calling them on it right away. That was the the e-mail so to speak, that we're being told was sent by Peng Shuai, is coming through China's state-run media.

And you read it once and you just shake your head. It's ridiculous. It's preposterous. I mean, it just reads like something that some P.R. person wrote. And we have no idea. There's no video, John, there's no pictures, there's no timestamp. There's no assurance at all that Peng Shuai had anything to do with that.

And of course, every syllable of it screams out she did not have anything to do with it. It is just so transparently a P.R. move by the Chinese government. That's our -- my read and that's the read obviously of Steve Simon, the CEO of the WTA, who has been a leader, really setting the tone throughout this whole thing, demanding transparency, demanding that they hear from Peng Shuai herself, wanting independent analysis of her sexual assault allegations against a former top Chinese leader. And the WTA standing very tall tonight in terms of asking for

accountability, and for speaking out for women, and those who are alleged -- the victims of alleged sexual assault.

VAUSE: Yes, and just from the get go, you made this point, you know, this response from the WTO -- WTA has been notable for that (INAUDIBLE) calling for that investigation.

But Steve Simon told the New York Times, if at the end of the day, we don't see the appropriate results from this, we would be prepared to take that step and not operate our business in China if that is what it came to.

That is no small threat, given reports that the WTA earns about a third of its total revenue from China. You know, in the past, other professional sporting leagues have buckled under pressure from Beijing.

I guess, you know, in the past, there hasn't been a case of like this where there are growing fears about the safety of a high-profile athlete.

BRENNAN: That's why what the WTA is doing is so remarkable. And really such a watershed moment in sports, to be doing the right thing, to be speaking out, to be saying enough is enough that we're actually not worried about our business, we're worried about this one human being and we want answers.


BRENNAN: You're right, the NBA buckled, the International Olympic Committee could have done so much before the 2008 Beijing Summer Games to push for human rights, changes and the human rights abuses in China to have them stop.

The International Olympic Committee did nothing going to 2008 and has done nothing going into the Winter games, which are coming up in less than 2-1/2 months in -- again, in Beijing, the 2022 Winter Olympics.

And IOC buckles under the thought of losing business in China, the NBA buckles under the pressure. And here's the WTA saying enough is enough, standing up, doing what's right. When in the world do we see that anymore in sports? A major pro-sports league or entity doing the right thing and doing it in such a wonderful way.

There are 11 tournaments, WTA tournaments in China, it would be a big loss. But I think what the WTA is doing is trying to get China to blink first, because China cares very much about hosting those tournaments, and having a foothold throughout sports in all sports. And I think that's the genius of what the WTA is doing.

VAUSE: How much is all this likely to factor into a decision from the U.S. president on whether or not there'll be some kind of diplomatic boycott on the Winter Olympics in Beijing? Because that's on the table right now. BRENNAN: It certainly is. And it's certainly going to make it very easy for President Biden if he were to choose to do this, John, to boycott or to have a diplomatic boycott, not an athlete boycott by any means.

But it would be easy to do it because you look at this and we are -- as I said, we are 2-1/2 months away from the next Olympics. This story is a devastating P.R. nightmare right now for China.

They need to rectify this immediately and let Peng Shuai speak, let her be seen and investigate the allegations that she's making.

And as long as China prolongs this, it was November 2nd that she went missing. So, it's been more than two weeks. I think it heightens the chances that there will be diplomatic pressure put on not maybe just by the U.S. but other countries, the athletes will compete by a very smart move would be to take your -- some kind of a nominal delegation and not have them show up. That would make a strong statement while letting the athletes still do what they do best, which is compete at the Olympic games.

VAUSE: Yes, let the athletes to compete, let the politicians do the diplomacy and take it from there. Christine, thanks for being with us.

BRENNAN: John, thank you very much.

VAUSE: A growing number of Europeans are now will soon will be facing tough new pandemic restrictions. Daily COVID infections in Germany have hit an all-time high, more than 65,000 infections reported in the last 24 hours.

Experts blame a low vaccination rate, at least six states have adopted restrictive measures for the unvaccinated.

In Ireland pubs, restaurants, nightclubs are now under a midnight curfew. The government is expanding the use of the vaccine pass, asking people to work from home starting Friday.


LEO VARADKAR, IRISH DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Things were going so well. I think as a nation we're a little bit crestfallen, it's a bit heartbroken that we're back into a difficult space when it comes to COVID.

We do have among the highest vaccination rates around the world, around 94 percent of adults are fully vaccinated.

Unfortunately, the five percent that are not are not are causing a lot of the trouble.

RAY BYRNE, OWNER, THE BRAZEN HEAD PUB, DUBLIN: There's huge anxiety and it was a real struggle for people to get through, you know, the long lockdown. And to be fair, the governments' approach were really exemplary and I don't know if any business in Ireland that went bust due to COVID. So, I think it is just a matter of biting the bullet.


VAUSE: Sweden is considering a vaccine pass which requires proof of COVID shots to attend events with more than 100 people. That measure could start as soon as December 1st.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia have both reported a record number of daily new cases. Both governments are expected to approve new COVID restrictions this coming week.

Live now to Paris, CNN's Cyril Vanier standing by and the situation in Germany seems to be especially grim. Russia, Britain, Germany, the top three countries right now for infections and Angela Merkel saying that they're now in the grips of this fourth wave.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. In fact, European leaders are referring to this, John, as the fifth wave and they're afraid of it, to be honest. Because going into this winter in these colder months, they didn't know exactly how much protection they had against the virus. You know, how much protection the level of vaccination in their population was giving them but the fact is that Germany has one of the lowest vaccination rates among Western European nations when you compare it to say France, Spain, Italy.

So, Germany is 65 percent vaccinated. That's to say two thirds of its population are vaccinated. It could sound like a lot. It means one- third have little or no immunity, John. And that is why we are seeing numbers go up so fast in Germany and Germany imposing new restrictions in many of its federal states.


VANIER: The leader of Bavaria, just this week, calling the restrictions a "kind of lockdown on the unvaccinated" because they have to show proof of vaccination to access many parts of public life, whether it's restaurants, hotels, gyms or other areas.

So, Germany taking measures probably going to have at this stage, John to take even more drastic action.

VAUSE: What's interesting about this fifth wave, thank you for the correction is that in Germany, at least, they have approved booster shots.

But one of the problems has been is there's been a very slow take up, which seems to reflect everything that happened initially with the vaccine rollout, there is a slow take up of the vaccine when initially it was introduced by the government there, there was mixed messages coming from the government, there are mixed messages again coming from these booster shots.

So, it seems maybe the lessons have not been learned. And that's one of the contributing problems here.

VANIER: Yes, you know, France has learned one lesson, which is you have to coerce people into getting the vaccine or the booster shots. That's not me talking, of course, that's the lesson that the government has learned because France was a laggard in terms of vaccination, right up until early this summer, right, the May June period.

Then, in July, French President Emmanuel Macron, gives a televised address, he introduces the vaccine pass, which is essentially like what I just described in Germany, to do pretty much anything, to go to the restaurants, pubs, bars, museums, train stations, airport, pretty much anything apart from staying in your home, you have to show proof of vaccination.

While that is not a vaccine mandate, per se, it is a very high level of incentivization. I would call it coercion of the population for them to get the vaccine.

Now what happened in France in the days that follow that presidential address in July, millions of people signed up. France now one of the most vaccinated countries in Western Europe, the rate stands at 75 percent. Now, that doesn't sound all that different from 65 percent. But consider the number of the eligible population, people who are aged 12 and up in France, 90 percent of those are vaccinated.

So, I think there's one lesson that has been learned in France and that is being learned in other countries, which is you have to incentivize if not coerce the population to get not only the full vaccination but also the booster dose and more countries are moving, inching I should say towards that, John.

VAUSE: Cyril, thank you. Cyril Vanier there in Paris. Appreciate the live update.

Our third international athlete has tested positive for COVID at an event preparing for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Other athletes tested positive Tuesday classified as asymptomatic while participating in the luge.

Official say he is known -- she is known to come in contact with someone previously confirmed to also have an asymptomatic case. For now, they're both report (PH) in isolation for further observation.

On Wednesday, South Korea reported more than 3,000 new COVID infections, a pandemic record. It comes after ease back on COVID restrictions as part of new living with COVID policy enacted at the start of the month. Over 80 percent of the population has received both doses of one vaccine.

Official say most breakthrough cases have been discovered in nursing homes and other care facilities.

The Belarusian-Polish border little calmer today but the future thousands of migrants stranded there remains in question.

Many have now been placed in temporary shelter and with that comes a fear of deportation. Many other migrants are from Iraq, and a state- run media reports more than 300 Iraqis have asked to leave Belarus on evacuation flight sometime today.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged the Belarusian president to allow the E.U. and the U.N. to provide aid to the migrants and help with repatriation and says Germany stands firmly with Poland.

Meantime, Poland warns the problems that led to this stalemate are not resolved and says it will do whatever it takes to protect the border.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen has our report.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: While the crisis at the border between Poland and Belarus is of course far from over. The Polish government certainly seems to believe that it has prevailed in what it calls its first round of the hybrid attack against its border.

The Polish government has said that it will continue to stand firm, but it also said in the forum of the Interior Minister that the Pols (PH) believe that both NATO and the European Union stand firmly in their corner, and so, therefore, the Pols certainly are not going to change the way that they've handled this crisis so far.

Now, the Polish government on the other hand, of course, does say that they believe that this is not over. They believe that attacks on their border, that the crisis on the other side of the border is not going to go away any time soon.

In fact, the government has said they believe that this could go on for years rather than weeks or months, and in a long term, the Polish government is going to build a wall at its border. The funds for that have already been allocated and the Pols are saying that the construction of that border is going to begin at the end of this year.

Now, at the same time, you can feel that the situation at the border, it's sort of calmed down a little bit. There were a lot fewer attacks, as the Pols put it on their border in the past 24 hours. But at the same time, of course, there hasn't been a long-term solution yet.

The European Union now putting up 700,000 euros to give to NGOs inside Belarus to at least alleviate some of the worst suffering that is going on there. But what's going to happen to the many people who are still stranded there in the long term is still completely unclear.


PLEITGEN: However, as far as Poland is concerned, they have made clear once again that those people are not going to get into the European Union via the border here in Poland.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Kuznica, Poland.


VAUSE: The border between Ukraine and Russia also being closely watched because of an unusual buildup of Russian troops.

In response, Ukraine has held military drills near Russian Annex Crimea. Here it says at least 90,000 Russian troops are now amassed near the border region that has the U.S. Defense Secretary calling for Moscow for a please explain.


GEN. LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We continue to see troubling behavior from Russia. We're not sure exactly what Mr. Putin is up to. But these movements certainly have our attention and you know, I would urge Russia to be more transparent about what they're up to.


VAUSE: Secretary Austin also weighed in on space debris caused by Russia's recent antisatellite missile test. He says it causes a safety concern which undermines strategic stability.

U.S. military says China appears to be developing a first strike nuclear weapon that could fly around the world at the speed of sound without being detected. Why that is raising a lot of concern.

Also, tensions remain high between Beijing and Taiwan. Taipei unveiling advanced F-16 fighter.

CNN's Will Ripley was there to see them firsthand, his report when we come back.


VAUSE: U.S. military officials say China's recent test of a hypersonic missile has the hallmarks of a first use defensive weapon, raising concerns that China's arsenal is advancing faster than initial assessments.

CNN's Alex Marquardt has details.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (on camera): It was a stark warning from one of the highest-ranking U.S. military generals about China's growing military capabilities. General John Hyten, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says that in a Chinese hypersonic missile test last summer, the missile went around the world five times at the speed of sound.

He told CBS News that the test "has the potential to change a lot of things and that the U.S. has to be concerned, take a listen.


GEN. JOHN E. HYTEN, VICE CHAIRMAN, U.S. JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: They launched a long-range missile that went around the world, dropped off a hypersonic glide vehicle that glided all the way back to China that impacted the target in China.


HYTEN: Close enough. Why are they building all of this capability? They look like a first use weapon. That's what those weapons look like to me.


MARQUARDT: A first use weapon means it could be used as a first strike in warfare as opposed to a deterrent or a response to another attack.

The reason that China as well as the U.S. and Russia are developing hypersonic missiles as they are less predictable and detectable than intercontinental ballistic missiles that fly in an arc, these fly closer to the earth.


MARQUARDT: That could mean General Hyten said that China could one day launch a surprise nuclear attack against the United States.

Now, General Hyten has been sounding the alarm about the pace of China's progress in developing advanced weapons.

Last month, he called it stunning, while saying at the same time that the Pentagon is unbelievably bureaucratic and slow. He called the Pentagon bureaucracy brutal and he also said that China will surpass the U.S. if something isn't done.

In terms of numbers, the Pentagon believes that by the end of the decade, China will have around 1,000 nuclear warheads.

For comparison, the U.S. right now has almost four times that. But in terms of the testing that they're doing on hypersonics, China has done hundreds of tests in the last five years. General Hyten says while the U.S. has done just nine.

Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.

VAUSE: Taiwan has deployed new advanced versions of F-16 fighter jets as tensions continue to escalate with Beijing.

CNN's Will Ripley was there, has an inside look.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A spectacle of military might here at Chiayi Airbase on Taiwan's Western Coast facing China.

We flew here by military plane from Taipei, it's about a 40-minute flight. And we're getting pretty unique access to Taiwan's newly upgraded fighter fleet. These are F-16Vs. They're older F-16s upgraded with new radar, new computer systems. Kind of like upgrading your iPhone to the latest model.

Taiwan is also ordering a new batch of brand new F-16Vs that are expected to arrive beginning in 2023. Nonetheless, the reality is Taiwan is facing a widening military gap

with the mainland. Even these highly sophisticated fighters and they showed us their Top Gun style moves. They would have a hard time competing in direct aerial combat with some of the fighter jets that the People's Liberation Air Force has unveiled and some of those fighter planes have been flying near Taiwan in record numbers including 150 in just five days at the beginning of October.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen is here, she was waving to the troops, waving to the planes as they flew by, inspecting these new aircraft and even handing out pay bonuses to the pilots because one of the reason that Taiwan's military is having a hard time finding recruits is because the salaries just aren't competitive when you compare them with civilian pilots.

You also have the director of the de facto U.S. Embassy, the American Institute of Taiwan here showing that there is a U.S. presence albeit not an official diplomatic presence on the ground in Taiwan.

But we know that there's been increasing military cooperation between the United States in Taiwan. Just over the last couple of years, hundreds of military exchanges have taken place with personnel from the United States coming here to train the Taiwanese military and also Taiwanese personnel going and training in the United States as well.

All of this to try to guard against what many analysts see as an increasingly assertive mainland with an increasingly powerful military. A military that President Xi Jinping of China has said repeatedly could be used to retake this island which it claims as its own territory, by force if necessary.

Will Ripley, CNN at Chiayi Airbase in Taiwan.


VAUSE: Well, it seems polluting the planet just isn't enough. When we come back, we're now creating a junkyard in orbit made even worse by a Russian test of an anti-satellite missile.



VAUSE: Welcome back, everyone. I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN Newsroom.

A recent test by Russia of an anti-satellite missile has only added to an already dangerous field of space junk. U.S. officials say debris from an explosive satellite created danger for the international community, undermines strategic stability. Russia denies the test was dangerous. Another of other countries have also blown up a satellite, that includes the U.S., China, as well as India.

Joining me from Tokyo, Chris Blackerby is the COO of Astroscale, a company that removes orbital debris.

Chris, thanks for being with us.

CHRIS BLACKERBY, COO, ASTROSCALE: Thanks, John. Thanks for having me.

VAUSE: OK. So, soon after Russia carried out this test of an anti- satellite missile, the International Space Station received this call and was put on alert. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning. Sorry for the early call. We were recently informed of a satellite break up. And need to have you guys start reviewing the safe haven procedure. It is 9 decimal to one. We are planning on performing through block 8, which will include closing the radio hatches.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can't support you getting institutes at your discretion. It is your call. Just know that the Soyuz crew is not in suit. And then, heads up 15 minutes to the next debris field past CCA (ph).


VAUSE: So, safe haven procedures include taking shelter in the Space X Dragon, which is the return spacecraft. Closing hatches to radio modules. They also talked about wearing space suits. So, how much immediate danger was posed to the space station? And how much danger is it and now? Because that junk is still there, right?

BLACKERBY: Yes, that's quite a wakeup call, isn't it? Literally and figuratively. Yes, it's still up there. I don't think that the risk -- I can't speak to the immediate risk to the station. But the fact is, it's more than just the astronauts on orbit that are at risk of this. You know, an increase in debris in an already debris filled orbital environment is a risk to all of us. We are reliant on the satellites that are in orbit for so much of what we do on a daily basis. And an increase like this only adds to the risk, now just to those astronauts in orbit, but to all of us on earth.

VAUSE: I was reading said that because of this added debris in that field, satellites already in orbit now have to -- have increase by 100 percent, the amount of orbital maneuvers they need to make to avoid this extra junk. So, there is a real potential that we could lose all satellite communications at some point because of this.

BLACKERBY: It's not surprising to hear that, that kind of statistic. You know, when you think about the number of pieces of debris, small debris, in the hundreds of millions and larger debris, you know, that are really could have a significant impact in the 30,000 or so. You are looking at a real risk to what's a highway. You know, our orbit is like a highway and it's a finite national resource.

And just like we need to protect the environment here on earth, we really need to protect the environment in orbit. And when there is objects there, like debris fields that were created and like significant amounts of other debris that are up there, they are not maneuverable. So, they are just inactive risk that is perpetually circling the earth and adding a risk to all of the economy and benefits that we get from space.

VAUSE: Well, the U.S. a secretary raised these safety concerns on Wednesday and addressed Russia by saying this. Here he is.


LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: There is a debris field there now that will be there forever and it is a safety concern. And so, we would call upon Russia to act more responsibly going forward. I mean, they have the ability. They know exactly what kind of a debris field they are going to create. And so, we wonder why they would do such a thing.


VAUSE: Why would they do such a thing?


BLACKERBY: I really can't speak to that and I am not sure why they would. But that is a question I can tell you John, that people around the community are asking. You know, there were Russian astronauts on the station as well. And all of us, regardless of nationality, derived benefit from what we get from space.

And cleaning up the debris in space is not as easy as cleaning it up here. When there is an accident here on earth it is hard enough to clean it up when there is an environmentalism accident here on earth. But at least we have gravity to help us to find it and pick it up. In orbit, it is spinning, it is going around the earth and it is staying up there for a long time. So, the technical difficulty in cleaning up debris in orbit is significant. So, what we really want to do is try to address that before it becomes debris like this.

VAUSE: Yes. Your website, because this is what you guys do. You clean up orbital debris. There are more than 20,000 pieces of debris larger than 10 centimeters in diameter. Hundreds of millions that are smaller. And up to tens of thousands of satellites launching in the next years, these pieces of debris endanger a flourishing ecosystem in space.

I'm wondering, is that part of the problem? There are no restrictions on sending anything into orbit. You could send spacious junk. You can send William Shatner. Anyone can do anything.

BLACKERBY: Yes. There's -- you know it's a big technical problem to be able to find and capture a piece of debris in orbit. But as you are referencing here, it's also a policy problem. And it's a commons issue. It's -- you know, you hear the term tragedy of the commons, this is tragedy of the orbital commons. Not one country -- there isn't one country that owns it. And so, then there is not one that is specifically responsible for it.

So, it's going to take coordination. It's going to take cooperation. And it's going to take, you know, working together between governments, between the private sector and governments, with institutions. It's a multi-pronged issue and we really want to be able to solve it. Not just from developing the technologies that's going to help this, but also working on these policies that you referenced. And also identifying the economic benefit. Because really what this comes down to, is it's also an economic problem.

VAUSE: Just from a technological point of view. How do you clean up junk which is in orbit? How do you catch it and how do you get rid of it?

BLACKERBY: Yes. So, at Astroscale we are focused on two aspects of that. One, is limiting the risk of future debris. And the second is cleaning up debris that is already there. And so, on the limiting risk of future debris, we actually just released something that we are calling a docking plate. So, we are proposing that satellite operators put this plate on there, of the satellites, before it launches that has a ferromagnetic material.

And then, we would launch a servicing satellite that has a magnetic arm at the end that can reach out and grab onto it and bring it out of commission if it fails. So, it's kind of like a tow hitch on a car. And so, that is a way that we see as the best way to limit the risk of future debris, satellites that haven't launched.

Debris that's currently up there. It's tough. It's harder. And the capture mechanism there. We are developing robotic arm capability to grab onto failed satellites or upper stage rocket bodies which are posing the greatest amount of risk.

VAUSE: Yes. I don't think people realize. Just one little piece of debris can, you know, cause havoc for satellites as well as the Space Station, can, you know, rip holes in, you know, structures. So, this is a concern. This is something which we need to look at. And no one really, I think, is taking a coordinated approach. But at least you guys are doing something, which is great.

So, Chris, thanks for being with us.

BLACKERBY: Thanks so much, John.

We'll take a short break. When we come back, Canadian facials were on the death toll from days of heavy rain likely to rise. Communities across British Columbia and Washington State are now dealing with extensive flooding. A check on the forecast when we come back.



VAUSE: Welcome back. In North America, the Pacific Northwest is grappling with catastrophic flooding after days of torrential rain. Washington State's government says that floodwaters rushed in that stunning causing extensive damage.

Search and rescue teams have found the body of a man believed to be swept away in floodwaters. It's the second storm death in the region. Meantime, British Colombia under a state of emergency as officials warn the death toll is expected to rise in the coming days. The region now bracing for more rain.

CNN's meteorologist, Derek Van Damme tracking the storm system. His very latest on the forecast. What can we expect?

DEREK VAN DAMME, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, John. You know, it's devastating to see some of those images coming out of that area, especially the aerial perspective given that broad view of what they are dealing with on the ground there. But there's just so many facets to this flood story, not only the impacts to loss of life but also the impact on agriculture and supply chain issues too. And they're trying to highlight those as well.

But I think this video behind me just really explains what they are dealing with right across the border from the State of Washington, in Abbott's Phil (ph) on British Columbia, Southern British Columbia. That area has seen incredible amounts of flooding, but that's impacting cattle, leaving them stranded within the floodwaters as well. You can see some of the community members gathering together to save the animals.

And I want to show you the Port of Vancouver. This is Canada's largest port and this is a satellite image. You can see all of the sediment and all the runoff from the Fraser River from just upstream. This particular area of being impacted by the floodwaters as well. In fact, the largest port in Canada, the Port of Vancouver, completely shut off to rail service to and from this area. This is a port that typically receives and moves about 440 million U.S. dollars' worth of goods per day.

And with that completely shut off, that, of course, has an impact on supply chain issues. Not only on food, the availability of food, but also supplies from automobiles, to goods and essential services and commodity. So, something to consider as well.

Copernicus, one of the European atmosphere monitoring systems recorded the flooding that took place across British Columbia. You can see that shading of blue. That is all the flooded areas and it's all because of the rain that exceeded 250 millimeters within this region. Now, there is some shower activity in the area. But we will get a brief break in the rain before another atmospheric river event sets up by the end of the weekend and into the early parts of next week. So, we will dry out temporarily, but we have to brace ourselves for more rain and more mountain snows in the days to come. So, not the best news for residents of the Pacific Northwest. John.

VAUSE: Not good news, but better to be warned, forewarned, I guess Derek, thank you. Derek Van Damme there with the forecast. Appreciate it.

Thank you for joining me. I'm John Vause. Isa Soares will be here at the top of the hour with more CNN Newsroom. In the meantime, stay with us. World Sport is up after a short break.