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May 22, 2024

US Monitors Potential Russian Space Weapon Near American Satellite

Russia’s Recent Satellite Launch Raises Concerns of Space Weaponry

Last week, Russia launched a satellite that US intelligence officials suspect is a weapon capable of inspecting and potentially attacking other satellites. The US Space Command (USSPACECOM) announced on Tuesday that this Russian spacecraft, currently trailing a US spy satellite in orbit, poses a potential threat.

On May 16, a Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Plesetsk launch site, located approximately 500 miles north of Moscow, deploying at least nine satellites into low-Earth orbit. Among these was COSMOS 2576, a type of Russian military “inspector” satellite. US officials have long criticized these satellites for their hazardous space activities.

“We have observed nominal activity and assess it is likely a counterspace weapon presumably capable of attacking other satellites in low Earth orbit,” a USSPACECOM spokesperson stated in a Reuters interview. “Russia deployed this new counterspace weapon into the same orbit as a US government satellite.”

COSMOS 2576 resembles earlier counterspace payloads from 2019 and 2022, following a pattern of Russian satellites maneuvering close to critical US spy satellites. The launch also included civilian satellites sent to different orbits, a novel and unexpected combination in Russian space missions.

“This mix of military and civilian payloads was totally unexpected. Never seen that before on a Russian launch,” said Bart Hendrickx, a seasoned analyst tracking Russia’s space program.

Despite its current distance, COSMOS 2576 is positioned in the same orbital ring as USA 314, a bus-sized National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite launched in April 2021. Analysts predict that the Russian satellite, traveling at a faster speed, will eventually come closer to USA 314, based on orbital data reviewed by Reuters.

US intelligence agencies had anticipated the launch of COSMOS 2576 and alerted their allies about the satellite’s potential threat. Although COSMOS 2576 has not yet approached a US satellite, its trajectory suggests imminent proximity to sensitive American assets in space.

The satellite’s deployment has heightened concerns amidst US allegations that Russia is developing a space-based nuclear weapon capable of destroying entire networks of satellites. US officials believe Russia launched at least one satellite, COSMOS 2553, linked to this nuclear space weapon program. However, they also confirm that Russia has not yet deployed any nuclear weapon in space.

Since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has increased the secrecy surrounding its space activities and has threatened US satellites assisting Ukraine’s defense efforts, such as SpaceX’s Starlink. This vast network of internet satellites in low-Earth orbit plays a crucial role in the ongoing conflict.

The US and Russia continue to clash over the issue of satellite weapons at the United Nations Security Council, adding another layer of tension to their already strained relationship.

As COSMOS 2576 follows its path, the US remains vigilant, monitoring the satellite’s movements and preparing for any potential threats to its space assets. The situation underscores the growing need for international agreements and regulations to manage and mitigate the risks of space-based weaponry.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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