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Russia’s Latest Weapon Test Justifies America’s Space Force

A close up view of US Space Force Senior Enlisted Advisor CMSgt Roger Towberman's uniform Thursday, May 15, 2020, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead) Date: 15 May 2020, 13:31 Source: Presentation of the U.S. Space Force Flag Author: The White House from Washington, DC

“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.”

Space, once reserved for communication satellites, research probes, and astronaut crews, has become increasingly militarized in the 21st century. In December, the Trump administration established the US Space Force in order to combat threats beyond the atmosphere. While the agency’s existence received some initial criticism, the testing of a Russian anti-satellite weapon justifies America’s Space Force.

A Threat to Peace

The launch of a projectile in space by Moscow on July 15 put officials in the US and UK on alert. They accused Moscow of launching an object from one of its satellites, Cosmos 2543, which could be used to impact other satellites, CNN reported. 

The tactic could be used to intercept communication American and British communication satellites and military intelligence craft. US Space Command said it obtained “evidence that Russia conducted a non-destructive test of a space-based anti-satellite weapon,” according to a statement from the agency.

The UK also issued a condemnation of its own, citing the risk to vital infrastructure that floats overhead. 

“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. We call on Russia to avoid any further such testing,” said Air Vice Marshal Harvey Smyth, head of the UK’s Space Directorate.

‘Unusual and Disturbing’

The development marks the first time the Kremlin has been publicly accused of firing an ‘on orbit’ weapon, CNN reported. The US had previously been alerted of the possibility that such a weapon could be deployed, said Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, commander of US Space Command and US Space Force Chief of Space Operations.

“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 US and allied space assets at risk,” Raymond said.

The precise nature of the July 15 event is unique in how it was carried out, The Verge reported. The Cosmos satellite serves as an inspector satellite, used to survey other installations such as in the case of damage. This practice generally entails the Cosmos passing close by the satellite it needs survey.

However, as it did so this time, another object was projected from Cosmos, US Space Command reported. Furthermore, in January, a pair of Russian satellites were observed tailing an American spy craft. The implication is that a Cosmos craft could pass close enough to an American or British satellite and then deploy the object that Russia tested on July 15.

“We view this behavior as unusual and disturbing,” Raymond said.

Hard to Prove

The Russian Ministry of Defence claimed the Cosmos craft was only performing a routine inspection.

“During testing of the latest space technology, one of the domestic satellites was examined close up using the specialized equipment of small space craft,” Interfax News reported, quoting a ministry spokesperson.

Moscow has retrieved information from the inspection and is in the process of reviewing it, the spokesperson said. The “specialized equipment” possibly referred to the unknown object that was propelled from Cosmos 2543.

As the event took place in space, the US lacks irrefutable evidence that the object is a satellite killer. However, it noted that the projectile moved five times faster than the Cosmos craft it was deployed from, The Verge reported. That alone is suspicious and signals nefarious intentions.

Nesting Satellites

The Cosmos line of satellites is unique in its functional design, which could afford Russia an advantage in the race to create satellite killers. By using a Russian nesting doll system, one satellite launches with another two stored within it. Once it reaches orbit, it can then launch its children craft, Raymond said.

Instead of another Cosmos, a satellite could in theory carry a more sinister payload designed to knock out enemy communication and navigation systems.

Traditional means of eliminating satellites are still in their infancy themselves. However, the US, Russia, China, and India have all proven they have the means to down a satellite. Prior to the Cosmos incident, methods of eliminating spacecraft have relied on laser, or propulsion from the Earth’s atmosphere, either via a jet or rocket.

Moscow’s new method, the functional equivalent of a drive-by shooting in space, could prove more difficult tp prevent as it uses equipment already in orbit. Therefore, Russia’s test justifies America’s Space Force; the threats above the atmosphere continue to evolve and require constant monitoring.

Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

1 Comment

  1. Jim July 27, 2020

    Codswallop. Yet another excuse for the US to militarize space.


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