Washington | The United States were accused on Thursday that Russia had tested a weapon anti-satellite launched from space, but Moscow denies this, calling the object a “special instrument” of the inspection space.
Anyway, the maneuvering means to Washington a rare military escalation in space.
The ability of a satellite to attack another until now has been theoretical. Only strikes from the ground had been demonstrated by the United States, Russia, China in 2007 and India in 2019, but these explosions create thousands of debris and the great powers refrain from renewing these tests.
The incident Russian could be a message to Washington, in the process of setting up the new space Force, as decided by Donald Trump in a stated goal of domination. His boss, the general, Jay Raymond, has repeated his credo on Friday: “The space is a theater of war such as the air, the earth and the sea”.
In November 2019, Russia has launched a satellite, named Cosmos 2542. Surprise, the following week, this satellite has released a sub-satellite, Cosmos 2543, able to maneuver in orbit to observe, inspect or spy on other satellites.
This sub-satellite is close to a spy satellite USA-245), and another satellite of the Russian, a game of cat and mouse in orbit that can be easily observed from the ground by astronomers and by the american army, which is publicly alarmed.
The 15 July to 07H50 GMT, Cosmos 2543 (the sub-satellite, which is less than one square meter of surface, according to the us military), has released an object at a relative velocity high, of the order of 200 meters per second, writes the astronomer Jonathan McDowell. Called “object E” by the Americans, today it is still in orbit and seems to have nothing struck (in 2017, the same scenario occurred with another device Russian).
It is unknown its size, its form and nature, but it does not change anything to his dangerousness.
In orbit, the satellites spin in vacuum at tens of thousands of kilometers per hour, and the slightest shock between a satellite and an object that can puncture a solar panel, or damage or destroy any engine, depending on the size of the object.
In space, the difference between satellite and weapon is therefore theoretical: whatever its function, the object E is de facto a “projectile,” and therefore a “weapon”, say the Americans.
It is the equivalent of a “ball” in space, said Friday Christopher Ford, the State department. “Up there, there was never a small hanging”.
Moscow, moreover, was implicitly recognized by accusing Washington and London have satellite programmes of inspection or repair that may be diverted to become “weapons anti-satellite”.
The United States actually have military satellites maneuverable in orbit, and that can release of smaller satellites. In 2018, France had complained that a satellite Russian is closer to one of its military satellites to spy on (for example, to see the technology on board), but american satellites had approached this same satellite Russian a few days before.
It is unclear whether the Americans have the ability to send projectiles at high speed as the Russians come to do, told AFP Brian Weeden, an expert in space security at the Secure World Foundation in Washington, dc. “But they could probably do it, if they wanted to”.
Americans are highly dependent on the space
“The Russians might want to send a strategic message about the vulnerability of u.s. systems,” says Brian Weeden. The spy satellites are huge, extremely expensive and few in number, ” he said.
“Russia does not depend on all of its satellites than the United States, and the Russian satellites are not nearly as expensive”, adds the expert.
This is what has been repeated to the boss of the Space Force Friday: since the Gulf war, while in the us army, planes, infantry, depends on the space, for navigation, communications, and intelligence.
“Everything we do (…) integrates the space at every step”, the general said Raymond.
Americans and Russians will have the opportunity to speak directly, the next week in Vienna for their first meeting on space security since 2013.