The U.S. Defense Department believes Russia may have tested a new space technology that could be used to destroy other satellites already in orbit,media reported. While Russia’s test did not destroy anything, U.S. military officials fear it could be used in the future to attack its national satellite.
On July 15, a Russian satellite called Kosmos 2543 fired an unknown object into orbit, according to the U.S. Space Command. It is reported that the satellite was released near another Russian satellite, but no debris. During the test, the Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged that the Kosmos 2543 would be close to the target satellite for inspection, but the satellite tracker noticed a new object during the inspection.
Russia says the Kosmos 2543 is a probe satellite, so it’s not surprising to be close to another Russian satellite. In fact, over the past decade, this close-range “check” has become a trend for Russian satellites.
Yet Kosmos 2543 is no longer just checking Russian satellites. It is reported that the Kosmos 2543 was deployed by another Russian satellite, Kosmos 2542, in December 2019. In January, satellite trackers noticed that the two satellites appeared to be tracking a U.S. spy satellite called USA 245. The U.S. Space Command noticed the strange behavior, which made them very unhappy. “We think this behavior is unusual and disturbing,” Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, commander of the U.S. Space Command and head of space operations for the space force, told TIME in February. “
Now, Raymond condemns the unidentified object launched by Kosmos 2543 and calls it evidence of a weapons system. “The Russian satellite system used to conduct this in-orbit weapon test is the one we feared earlier this year when Russia conducted exercises near a U.S. government satellite,” he said in a statement. This is further evidence of Russia’s continued efforts to develop and test space-based systems, and is consistent with the Kremlin’s military doctrine of the use of weapons that threaten the space assets of the United States and its allies. “
In fact, it is not uncommon for large satellites to launch small satellites into orbit. ISS regularly deploys small standardized satellites, and the U.S. Air Force’s mysterious space shuttle X-37B has launched small satellites during its fifth trip to space from 2017 to 2019.
What makes the Russian experiment unique is that whatever the Kosmos 2543 is launched into orbit, it moves fast — at least faster than its parent satellite. This suggests that the object may be more insidious than another detection satellite. The Kosmos 2543 incident is similar to another in 2017, when a Russian satellite called Kosmos 2521 deployed a high-speed subsatellite, the U.S. Space Command said. Raymond called these satellite deployments “Russian”sgours.
Of course, the United States cannot fully confirm that the Kosmos 2543 tested an anti-satellite weapon, but the evidence does seem to point to this conclusion. “We don’t have clear evidence, but I think it is,” says Brian Weeden, project planning director for the Secure World Foundation.