U.S. Space Command has accused Russia of conducting an anti-satellite test from one of its satellites in orbit. This anti-satellite test could further increase tensions between the US and Russia.
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“On July 15, Russia injected a new object into orbit from Cosmos 2543,” the eight-month-old agency says in a statement. “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.”
According to Gen. John Raymond, the Russian satellite system used in the anti-satellite test is the same one that provoked U.S. protests earlier this year after it allegedly veered close to a U.S. spy satellite.
“This is further evidence of Russia’s continuing efforts to develop and test space-based systems,” Raymond charges in the official statement, “and consistent with the Kremlin’s published military doctrine to employ weapons that hold U.S. and allied space assets at risk.”
According to Time magazine, the Russian satellite that fired the projectile had itself hatched from another satellite that was launched by Moscow in November. The newsweekly says both satellites in January moved into close range with a powerful U.S. spy satellite named KH-11, a move that was formally protested by the U.S. State Department.
Russia’s testing of a weapon that the U.S. says aims to destroy satellites attracted further criticism. “This event highlights Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control, with which Moscow aims to restrict the capabilities of the United States,” says Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Ford in the Space Command statement, “while clearly having no intention of halting its own counter space program — both ground-based anti-satellite capabilities and what would appear to be actual in-orbit anti-satellite weaponry.”
The head of the United Kingdom’s Space Directorate also expressed concern over what he described as Russia testing one of its satellites “by launching a projectile with the characteristics of a weapon.” “Actions of this kind threaten the peaceful use of space and risk causing debris that could pose a threat to satellites and the space systems on which the world depends,” said Air Vice-Marshal Harvey Smyth. “We call on Russia to avoid any further such testing.”
Russian Ministry of Defense downplayed the importance of what took place on July 15. According to the Associated Press, the Kremlin the event involved “a small space vehicle” that “inspected one of the national satellites from a close distance using special equipment.”
Only four nations – Russia, the US, China and India have proven anti-satellite capability. There is no treaty banning such weapons testing even though various countries have debated for some kind of a pact.
‘Space assets at risk’
“The Russian satellite system used to conduct this on-orbit weapons test is the same satellite system that we raised concerns about earlier this year when Russia manoeuvred near a U.S. government satellite,” said Gen. John W. Raymond, commander of US Space Command and US Space Force chief of space operations, in a statement.
“This is further evidence 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 the US and allied space assets at risk,” he added.
The recently created US Space Force was reportedly needed in part due to Russian and Chinese anti-satellite weapons.
Last month, the Pentagon published a space strategy document saying that China and Russia present the greatest strategic threat due to their “development, testing, and deployment of counter-space capabilities and their associated military doctrine for employment in conflict extending to space.”
“China and Russia each have weaponized space as a means to reduce the US and allied military effectiveness and challenge our freedom of operation in space,” it added.
Christopher Ford, the US State Department’s top arms control official, said the incident showed Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control “with which Moscow aims to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting its own counter space program – both ground-based anti-satellite capabilities and what would appear to be actual in-orbit anti-satellite weaponry.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry said of the July 15 test that “During testing of the latest space technology, one of the domestic satellites was examined close up using the specialized equipment of small spacecraft,” adding that “valuable information about the technical condition of the object under investigation” had been obtained.