23 July 2020
Russia Tests a Satellite That Rams Other Satellites, US Says
By Patrick Tucker
Defense One


It’s the latest Russian weapon being developed to attack American spacecraft, Space Force leader says.

Russia tested an anti-satellite weapon last week, launching a projectile from an orbiting satellite, U.S. military leaders said Thursday.

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 maneuvered near a U.S. government satellite,” Gen. John Raymond, who leads U.S. Space Command, said 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 U.S. and allied space assets at risk.” 

One space expert said open data backs up the Pentagon’s assessment. 

“On July 15, Cosmos 2543 deployed a smaller object at a relatively high speed (roughly 200 m/s or about 400 mph) that is unusual for the typical satellite deployment,” Brian Wheeden, technical advisor for the Secure World Foundation. We saw something similar back in 2017 with Cosmos 2521 deploying Cosmos 2523. So far neither of those deployed satellites have struck anything, but their parent objects have done close approaches to other Russian satellites.”

U.S. military leaders have closely watched previous Russian orbital tests. In September 2014, Russia launched a satellite that performed a series of highly unusual maneuvers close to a pair of Intelsat communications satellites. 

A top U.S. arms control official said the test showed Moscow’s hypocrisy.

 ”This event highlights 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 counterspace program - both ground-based anti-satellite capabilities and what would appear to be actual in-orbit anti-satellite weaponry,” Christopher Ford, assistant Secretary of State currently performing the duties of the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, said in a statement. 

Russia also tests the Nudol anti-satellite ballistic missile, with nine launches from truck-mounted launchers since 2014, most recently in November, according to a running list by Weeden.

A less-remarked-upon threat, according to Laura Seward Forczyk, founder of space consulting and analysis firm Astralytical, is that provocative antisatellite tests pressure governments like the United States and others to keep pace with their own expensive experimentation. 

“The problem isn’t only that Russia is continuing to test anti-satellite (#ASAT) systems, even nondestructively,” she wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “It pressures/encourages US leadership & others that the US & other space powers should also be considering or testing ASAT systems. It’s a dangerous feedback cycle.”


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