The US and UK have accused Russia of testing a weapon-like projectile in space that could be used to target satellites in orbit.
The US State Department described the recent use of "what would appear to be actual in-orbit anti-satellite weaponry" as concerning.
Russia's defence ministry earlier said it was using new technology to perform checks on Russian space equipment.
The US has previously raised concerns about new Russian satellite activity.
But it is the first time the UK has made accusations about Russian test-firing in space. They come just days after an inquiry said the UK government "badly underestimated" the threat posed by Russia.
In a statement on Thursday, US Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-proliferation, Christopher Ford, accused Moscow of hypocrisy after it said it wanted arms control to be extended to space.
"Moscow aims to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting its own counter-space programme," he said.
The head of the UK's space directorate, Air Vice Marshal Harvey Smyth, said he was also concerned about the latest Russian satellite test, which he said had the "characteristics of a weapon".
"Actions like this 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," he said. He urged Russia to be "responsible" and to "avoid any further such testing".
Russia, the UK, the US and China are among more than 100 nations to have committed to a space treaty that stipulates that outer space is to be explored by all and purely for peaceful purposes.
The treaty adds that weapons should not be placed in orbit or in space.
The US said the Russian satellite system was the same one it raised concerns about in 2018 and earlier this year when the US accused it of manoeuvring close to an American satellite.
In this latest incident, Gen Jay Raymond, who heads US space command, said there was evidence Russia "conducted a test of a space-based anti-satellite weapon".
Gen Raymond added: "This is further evidence of Russia's continuing efforts to develop and test space-based systems and [is] consistent with the Kremlin's published military doctrine to employ weapons that hold US and allied space assets at risk."
This Russian test of what the Americans say is an anti-satellite weapon is part of a pattern of recent Russian space activity. In February, the US military said that two Russian satellites manoeuvred close to an American one, and in April Moscow test-fired a ground-based satellite interceptor.
Only four countries - Russia, the US, China and India - have demonstrated an anti-satellite capability over the past decades. Anti-satellite warheads have been carried aloft by aircraft or rockets, and satellites have also been illuminated by lasers.
But Moscow is also clearly looking at using one satellite to kill another. Interest in such weapons is growing given our reliance upon satellites for a variety of purposes such as intelligence gathering, communications, navigation and early-warning.
There is no treaty banning or limiting such weapons though a number of countries have argued for some kind of agreement to do just this.
But in military terms, space has already become the new frontier with several countries organising specific commands in their armed forces to deal with both the defensive and offensive aspects of protecting their essential space-based systems.
A test of a new Russian satellite took place on 15 July with the aim of performing checks on the country's space equipment, Russia's defence ministry said at the time.
"During testing of the latest space technology, one of the domestic satellites was examined close up using the specialised equipment of small space craft," the ministry said, according to Interfax news agency.
It added that "valuable information about the technical condition of the object under investigation" had been recorded.
Russia says satellite tests created no threats in outer space
The tests of a satellite held by Russia’s Defense Ministry in mid-July created no threats for other space vehicles and violated no principles of international law, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a commentary on Friday.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry thus commented on statements by US and UK officials over the Russian satellite’s tests.
"The tests held by the Defense Ministry of Russia on July 15 this year created no threats for other space vehicles and, most importantly, violated no norms or principles of international law," the statement says.
"According to the information of our Defense Ministry, the Russian inspector-satellite inspected a Russian space vehicle at a close distance using the small satellite’s specialized equipment. As a result, valuable information on the technical condition of the inspected object was obtained and transmitted to ground-based control systems," according to the statement.
The Foreign Ministry thus commented on the statements by US and UK officials "on the tests of a satellite allegedly with the characteristics of a weapon held by Russia on July 15." Specifically, such statements were made by US Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea, US Space Force Commander John Raymond, US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Ford and Head of the UK’s Space Directorate Harvey Smith.
US and UK representatives are trying to discredit with their statements Russia’s initiatives on preventing an arms race in outer space, the ministry said.
"We consider this as another anti-Russian move, as part of a Washington-initiated purposeful information campaign for discrediting the Russian space activity and our peaceful initiatives for preventing an arms race in outer space," the Foreign Ministry stressed.
"American and British representatives are again trying to present the situation in a distorted form to distract the attention of the international public from real threats in outer space, justify the steps they are taking to deploy weapons in outer space and secure additional financing for these purposes," the ministry pointed out.
"Naturally, they keep silent about their own efforts in the field of military space, including the implementation of the programs of possibly involving inspector satellites and repair satellites as anti-satellite means," the statement says.
As Russia’s Foreign Ministry pointed out, the time chosen for these comments - ahead of a Russian-US meeting of experts on space security on July 27 in Vienna - raises big questions.
"It is not clear what goal the US colleagues are pursuing. We would want to hope that they are not trying in this way to pre-determine the tonality and the results of the meeting and complicate the process of developing a bilateral dialogue on space issues and strategic stability as a whole, which is so important for the entire international community," the ministry added.
Russia’s adherence to its commitments
Russia continues to adhere to its commitments for the non-discriminatory use and exploration of outer space for peaceful purposes, the ministry stressed.
"In this regard, the initiatives we are promoting for preventing the deployment of weapons in outer space, which, incidentally, are supported by a majority of UN member states, are acquiring a decisive role," Russia’s Foreign Ministry added.
This refers to the initiatives on working out a multilateral and legally binding treaty on preventing an arms race in outer space based on the Russian-Chinese draft agreement on the prevention of weapons deployment in space, the use of force or the threat of force in relation to space objects, and also on globalizing the political commitment not to be the first to place weapons in outer space, the ministry explained.
Professionalism instead of disinformation campaigns
Russia is ready to discuss space issues with the United States and Great Britain, the ministry stressed.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry also urged American and British colleagues "to display professionalism and sit down to a negotiating table and get down to specific and substantive work instead of some propagandistic disinformation campaigns."
"We confirm our readiness for discussing the entire range of space activity problems with the participation of representatives of interested agencies and organizations," the ministry stressed.
U.S. Space Command again condemns Russia for anti-satellite weapon test
WASHINGTON — U.S. Space Command in a July 23 statement said it has proof that Russia on July 15 conducted a non-destructive test of a space-based anti-satellite weapon.
U.S. Space Command said Russia “injected a new object into orbit from Cosmos-2543.”
Cosmos-2543 is the same satellite that earlier this year maneuvered near a U.S. government satellite, according to U.S. Space Command.
Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, commander of U.S. Space Command and chief of space operations of the U.S. Space Force, in February called out Russia for deploying an “inspector” satellite dubbed Cosmos-2542 that ejected a sub-satellite, Cosmos-2543. The latter was reportedly chasing USA 245, a classified imaging satellite owned by the National Reconnaissance Office.
Raymond again voiced concerns in April about Russia test firing a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile that he warned could threaten American satellites in low Earth orbit.
In a statement Raymond said the July 15 test 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.”
The U.S. State Department has criticized Russian satellite behaviors as “inconsistent with their stated mission and that these satellites displayed characteristics of a space-based weapon,” U.S. Space Command said.
Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of State performing the duties of the undersecretary for arms Control and international security, said in a statement that the latest test “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.”
The growing cat-and-mouse game in space is concerning because it could lead to escalation, warned space policy expert and consultant Laura Seward Forczyk.
“The problem isn’t only that Russia is continuing to test anti-satellite systems, even nondestructively,” Seward Forczyk commented on Twitter July 23. It’s worrisome because it puts pressure on the United States and other space powers to consider testing ASAT systems, she wrote. “It’s a dangerous feedback cycle.”
Russian Sat Spits Out High-Speed Object In Likely ASAT Test
"I don't see another obvious explanation other than it was a weapons test," said Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation.
WASHINGTON: Space Command has again called ‘foul’ about Russia’s testing of its Cosmos 2543 satellite following its July 15 deployment of a secondary payload at high-speed. SPACECOM said the maneuver was a “non-destructive space-based anti-satellite test” that threatens US and allied space assets.
“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,” SPACECOM head Gen. Jay Raymond, said in a statement today. “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.”
In response, Rep. Mike Turner, ranking member of the HASC strategic forces subcommittee, has called on Raymond to brief Congress “immediately” on the threat. “I strongly condemn Russia’s space-based anti-satellite weapons test, the latest in our adversaries’ aggressive behavior against the United States and our allies,” he said in a statement today.
And in a first, the UK Ministry of Defence also called out the Russians, with Air Vice-Marshall Harvey Smythe, head of the MoD Space Directorate, tweeting: “We are concerned by the manner in which Russia tested one of its satellites by launching a projectile with the characteristics of a weapon.” He further called on Moscow to refrain from such threatening testing in the future.
SPACECOM is tracking the object released by Cosmos 2543, numbered 45915 in the US military’s catalog of space objects, via its Space Surveillance Network of radar and optical telescopes. Independent observers also have been watching the Russian satellites.
“Object 45915 appears to have separated from Kosmos-2543 at about 0750 UTC Jul 15 at a fairly high relative velocity,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in a Tweet on July 17.
Cosmos 2543 and its companion Cosmos 2542, launched in 2019 to Low Earth Orbit (LEO, up to 2,000 kilometers in altitude), are both maneuvering satellites that Russia has dubbed “inspectors”: Officially, they’re aimed at keeping an eye out for space debris and/or monitoring for shady activities by the satellites of others (read: spying on US satellites.) Raymond in February voiced concern about the two satellites “shadowing” a US KH-11 spy satellite, US 245 operated by the National Reconnaissance Office.
While a number of countries (including the US) and companies have undertaken on-orbit experiments that involve deploying a smaller craft from a satellite, the separation speed of Object 45915 from Cosmos 2543 is the concerning factor. It is not possible to be completely sure the move was designed to test a space-based weapon, experts say, but there aren’t a whole lot of other interpretations.
“I don’t see another obvious explanation other than it was a weapons test,” Brian Weeden, head of programming at Secure World Foundation (SWF) said in an email to me today.
McDowell tweeted that an ASAT test is one interpretation of the Russian move. “Or they did a servicing experiment and discarded a component,” he added.
SPACECOM, however, has no doubts that Cosmos 2543 is testing an ASAT.
“Last week’s test is another example that the threats to U.S. and Allied space systems are real, serious, and increasing,” SPACECOM said. “Russia’s development and testing of orbital weapons highlights the importance of establishing the U.S. Space Force as a new branch of the armed forces and the U.S. Space Command as the nation’s unified combatant command for space.”
“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,” said Christopher Ford, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State currently performing the duties of the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, in SPACECOM’s press release.
Moscow, on the other hand, would be justified in pointing out that while the US been consistently critical for more than a decade of the efforts by Russia and China to draft space arms control treaties, Washington has never bothered to come up with its own recommendations. Indeed, back during the G.W. Bush administration, the US argued that there wasn’t any arms race in space that needed to be addressed by international accords — or even informal discussions at the United Nations.
And while the Obama administration actively pursued informal norm setting for space safety at the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPOUS) it, too, rejected negotiations on a legally binding space arms control treaty. COPUOS, in fact, does not have a mandate to discuss military matters; that is the purview of the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, where the US traditionally has blocked discussions of space arms control.
The US brouhaha over the Cosmos test “also brings up the need for having well-established norms of behavior, an agreed -pon understanding about what responsible actions are in space, and ways in which to bring up concerns if there are actions outside the norm,” Victoria Samson, SWF’s Washington office manager, said in an email to Breaking D.
Smythe, too, called on Russia “to work constructively with the UK and partners to encourage responsible behavior in space.”
Quelle: Breaking Defense
Russia conducts space-based anti-satellite weapons test
U.S. Space Command has evidence that Russia conducted a non-destructive test of a space-based anti-satellite weapon. On July 15, Russia injected a new object into orbit from Cosmos 2543, currently Satellite Catalog Number 45915 in Space-Track.org.
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. Tracking information can be found on Space-Track.org.
"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," said Gen. John W. "Jay" Raymond, Commander of U.S. Space Command and U.S. 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 U.S. and allied space assets at risk."
The U.S. State Department raised concerns in 2018, and again this year, that Russian satellite behaviors were inconsistent with their stated mission and that these satellites displayed characteristics of a space-based weapon. According to the Department of State, this behavior is hypocritical and concerning.
"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," said Dr. Christopher Ford, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State currently performing the duties of the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security.
Last week's test is another example that the threats to U.S. and Allied space systems are real, serious and increasing. Russia's development and testing of orbital weapons highlights the importance of establishing the U.S. Space Force as a new branch of the armed forces and the U.S. Space Command as the nation's unified combatant command for space. It is a shared interest and responsibility of all spacefaring nations to create the conditions for a safe, stable, and operationally sustainable space environment.
"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," Raymond concluded.
Quelle: U.S. Space Command Public Affairs Office