According to US space command officials, Russia has tested a satellite killer weapon in space. Credit: Handout.

Space became a scarier place this week, thanks to our Russian friends — it appears a deadly satellite killer, has been unleashed.

According to US Space Command, Russia has tested an anti-satellite weapon on orbit, continuing a series of aggressive actions inciting the militarization of space, C4ISR.Net reported.

According to a July 23 SPACECOM statement, Russian inspector satellite Cosmos 2543 released an object into space in proximity to another Russian satellite, an action inconsistent with its stated purpose.

US officials have suggested in the past that such an object could be used as a high-speed projectile weapon to attack other satellites, the report said.

“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 US government satellite,” said Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, SPACECOM Commander 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.”

The non-destructive test is similar to past Russian space activities, when Russia satellites eject a smaller object from an on orbit satellite. The most well documented example occurred in 2017, when Russian inspector satellite Cosmos 2519 deployed a sub-satellite named Cosmos 2521, the report said.

“What happened next is the disturbing part,” recounted Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Chris Ford in April 2020.

“The sub-satellite (…) launched an additional object into space — Cosmos 2523 — at the high relative speed of about 250 km per hour,” he explained. “I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but Cosmos 2521 demonstrated the ability to position itself near another satellite and to fire a projectile.

The apparent ability of these Russian satellites to fire projectiles has been a source of concern for American defense officials, especially as those satellites have maneuvered close to US government satellites.

Launched in November and December 2019, Cosmos 2542 and Cosmos 2543 — the satellite involved in the alleged July 15 anti-satellite test — have actively maneuvered near US government satellites operating in low Earth orbit.

According to NewAtlas.com, anti-satellite weapons were in development even before the first Sputnik was launched in 1957. As the name implies, their function is to destroy satellites for either military advantage or because the target poses a hazard to other spacecraft or populated areas on Earth.

Over the past 60 years, anti-satellite weapons have taken various forms, though their popularity with the major military powers has never been very great because the vulnerability of orbital satellites makes them much too exposed to a retaliatory strike or to debris produced by the original attack.

In a separate statement reported by ABC News, Air Vice-Marshal Harvey Smyth, the head of the UK’s space directorate, said, “We are concerned by the manner in which Russia tested one of its satellites by launching a projectile with the characteristics of a weapon.”

“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,” said Smyth. “We call on Russia to avoid any further such testing.”

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