The U.S. has accused Russia of testing an anti-satellite weapon in space, just months after the country was also accused of spying on an American satellite in orbit.
In a statement yesterday, the U.S. Space Command said it “has evidence that Russia conducted a non-destructive test of a space-based anti-satellite weapon” on Wednesday, July 15.
General John Raymond, Commander of U.S. Space Command and Chief of Space Operations for the U.S. Space Force, said the test was “consistent with the Kremlin’s published military doctrine to employ weapons that hold U.S. and allied space assets at risk.”
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] test is another example that the threats to U.S. and Allied space systems are real, serious and increasing.”
According to Jonathan McDowell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics on Twitter, the object appears to have been fired at 700 kilometers per hour, with no maneuvers following its deployment. “We don’t know how big the object is,” he noted. “But it’s a subsatellite of a subsatellite.”
Brian Weeden, a space policy analyst from the Secure World Foundation, noted on Twitter the speed suggested it was “a projectile being fired” rather than a satellite deployment. “That said, it’s also far from a conclusive weapons test. I’d put it in the worrisome category,” he added.
The satellite system involved in this incident was also accused of spying on the USA 245 satellite in February 2020. Cosmos 2542, which deployed the Cosmos 2543 satellite, was claimed to have adjusted its orbit to approach the U.S. government satellite, raising considerable alarm at the time.
“The classified USA 245 spacecraft belongs to the National Reconnaissance Office, and it is believed to carry a powerful Earth-facing telescope to take sharp, high-resolution photos for analysis by U.S. intelligence agencies,” said Spaceflight Now.
In April, Russia also launched an anti-satellite missile, known as the Nudol interceptor. The missile is supposedly designed to destroy satellites in low Earth orbit, although there are some question marks as to whether the system is actually operational yet or not.
Regardless, this latest orbital incident will be cause for some concern, with fears of potential conflicts in orbit. “The United States, in coordination with our allies, is ready and committed to deterring aggression and defending the Nation, our allies and vital U.S. interests from hostile acts in space,” said Raymond.