The United States and Great Britain are accusing the Russian military of testing an anti-satellite weapon in space. Testing and use of such a weapon are banned by an international treaty, of which Russia is a signatory.
According to the head of U.S. Space Command, Gen. Jay Raymond, Russia conducted the test on July 15.
The July 15 test involved a satellite releasing an “object in proximity to another Russian satellite, which is similar to on-orbit activity conducted by Russia in 2017 and inconsistent with the system’s stated mission as an inspector satellite.” Raymond added that the system is the same as one that “maneuvered near a U.S. government satellite” earlier this year. It’s “further evidence,” he said, “of Russia’s continuing efforts to develop and test space-based systems and consistent with the Kremlin’s published military doctrine to employ weapons that hold U.S. and allied space assets at risk.”
Both Russia and China are presumed to be roughly equal to the U.S. in satellite-killing technology. It’s almost certain that we conduct similar tests, although it’s harder to keep them secret.
For its part, Russia says the satellite in question was an “inspector satellite” and posed no threat to other objects in orbit.
“The tests conducted by Russia’s Ministry of Defense on July 15 did not pose a threat to other space objects and, most importantly, did not violate any norms and principles of international law,” said a statement from the Russian ministry.
“We call on our US and British colleagues to show professionalism and instead of some propagandistic information attacks, sit down for talks,” the ministry said in a statement. Russia claims the object released on July 15 was used to inspect one of the country’s national satellite and relay the information to Earth.
In turn, Moscow accused the US and Britain of seeking to develop their own anti-satellite weaponry.
Well, the Russian bird launched something toward another Russian satellite that was traveling about 700 MPH. It didn’t hit it, but there’s no indication it was wasn’t aimed that way.
The source of the test was supposedly the Cosmos 2543 satellite, which was launched on November 25, 2019. The event occurred when the satellite was near another Russian satellite, Cosmos 2535, but the projectile is not thought to have hit it or anything else in orbit.
“Russia released this object in proximity to another Russian satellite, which is similar to on-orbit activity conducted by Russia in 2017, and inconsistent with the system’s stated mission as an inspector satellite,” the statement said.
The U.S. is perfectly capable of responding to any attack on our military and civilian satellite systems with both air-launched missiles and space-based capabilities like the X-37 and our own anti-satellite satellites. As long as there’s a rough balance in capabilities, no one wants to start shooting down or paralyzing any satellite system.
But Russia is aggressively pursuing superiority in this field and, presumably, that was a primary reason for the creation of the Space Force. A swarm-attack by Russian anti-satellite weapons could temporarily blind the U.S. and cripple our infrastructure long enough for Russian ground forces to move into Ukraine or Eastern Europe. Without being able to coordinate a response, NATO would be nearly powerless to stop them.
It’s something to be concerned about but there’s no indication Russia will have that capability any time soon.