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Russia tests anti-satellite missile – here’s US Space Force’s response

Satellites (Thegreenj/WikiCommons)
April 16, 2020

Russia carried out a test for a missile capable of destroying satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), according to a statement from the U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) on Wednesday.

Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, the commander of the USSPACECOM and the U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations, explained in the statement that Russia’s test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missile is capable of knocking out satellites.

“Russia’s DA-ASAT test provides yet another example that the threats to U.S. and allied space systems are real, serious and growing,” Raymond said. “The United States is ready and committed to deterring aggression and defending the Nation, our allies and U.S. interests from hostile acts in space.”

Raymond added that the test indicates Russia’s hypocrisy on the advancement of space weapons.

“This test is further proof of Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control proposals designed to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting their counterspace weapons programs,” he said. “Space is critical to all nations and our way of life. The demands on space systems continue in this time of crisis where global logistics, transportation and communication are key to defeating the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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“It is a shared interest and responsibility of all spacefaring nations to create safe, stable and operationally sustainable conditions for space activities, including commercial, civil and national security activities,” Raymond said.

The USSPACECOM statement also described past incidents of Russian satellites “that exhibited characteristics of a space weapon” by conducting close passes near a U.S. government satellite. TIME Magazine reported one such incident in January when two Russian satellites, dubbed COSMOS 2542 and COSMOS 2543, drifted their orbits gradually closer to a U.S. classified imaging satellite operated by the National Reconnaissance Office.

USSPACECOM described that incident as the type of behavior that would be seen as “irresponsible and potentially threatening in any other domain.”

The Russian embassy did not respond to TIME’s request for comment about the incident involving the close encounter between the U.S. and Russian satellites. The Kremlin has however described their satellites in such incidents as “inspector” spacecraft conducting an “experiment.”

Raymond described another incident in 2017, when a Russian satellite in orbit launched a second satellite.

“The satellites exhibited characteristics of a weapon system when one of those satellites launched a high-speed projectile into space,” Raymond said of the incident.

Raymond has warned about the need for U.S. space assets to respond to both Russian and Chinese weapons advancements in space, including increasingly sophisticated lasers, anti-satellite weapons and state-of-the-art spacecraft that could cripple U.S. space satellites.

Brian Weeden, director of planning at the Secure World Foundation, told SpaceNews that Russia’s latest anti-satellite missile was a Nudol ballistic missile and that Russia put out a notice ahead of the launch. He said, “This appears to have been the 9th or 10th test of the Nudol system since 2014, so we know this system has been in development for a while.”