Elon Musk activates SpaceX Starlink service over Ukraine
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Russia has sparked panic in the international space community once more, after warning international companies, and their commercial satellites could become military targets if they work with Western governments for intelligence and communications work. While the threat broadly applies to a number of companies, Elon Musk’s SpaceX could be targeted in particular, as Musk has confronted Russia since the invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking at a meeting of the United Nations’ open-ended working group (OEWG) on reducing space threats, Konstantin Vorontsov, a member of the Russian Foreign Ministry said space was becoming a “launching pad for aggression and war.”
In a statement, he said: “We would like to underline an extremely dangerous trend that goes beyond the harmless use of outer space technologies and has become apparent during the events in Ukraine.
“Namely, the use by the United States and its allies of the elements of civilian, including commercial, infrastructure in outer space for military purposes.
“It seems like our colleagues do not realise that such actions in fact constitute indirect involvement in military conflicts. Quasi-civilian infrastructure may become a legitimate target for retaliation.
“Actions of the Western countries needlessly put at risk the sustainability of peaceful space activities, as well as numerous social and economic processes on Earth that affect the well-being of people, in particular in developing countries.”
“At the very least,” the statement added, “this provocative use of civilian satellites is questionable under the Outer Space Treaty, which provides for the exclusively peaceful use of outer space, and must be strongly condemned by the international community.”
Of all the Western companies aiding Ukraine, Elon Musk and his Starlink satellites are likely to anger Russia over the past year after the SpaceX CEO handed Ukraine more than 10,000 dish antennas since the start of Putin’s invasion.
These satellites have been deployed in settings from governmental buildings, hospitals and schools — to helping to control drones used to combat the invading Russian forces.
Aside from Starlink, commercial satellite imagery firms such as Planet, Maxar and BlackSky have also played a crucial role in the war effort against Russia, providing intelligence by taking pictures of the conflict from above and sharing them openly.
For example, images by Planet Labs in early August showed that a Ukrainian attack on a Russian military base in Crimea caused more damage than Russia had suggested in public reports.
The Russian diplomats went on to warn the UN against adopting “fragmented, non-inclusive rules for regulating space activities, that do not take into account approaches of all UN Member States and seek to ensure space dominance of a small group of states.”
Instead, it urged member countries to “focus on assuming national and international obligations to not place weapons of any kind in outer space (including in orbit around the Earth and on celestial bodies) and prohibit the threat or use of force against or with space objects, as well as introduce a complete and comprehensive ban on strike weapons in outer space for use against space objects.”
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Russia previously put the West on high alert after it used an anti-satellite missile to blow up one of its own satellites in an event known as an ASAT test late last year.
It caused thousands of pieces of space debris to fly towards the international space station, forcing astronauts to duck for cover in their spacecraft over fears the space junk would smash into them.
According to the US intelligence community’s 2022 Annual Threat Assessment in March, “Russia continues to train its military space elements and field new antisatellite weapons to disrupt and degrade US and allied space capabilities, and it is developing, testing, and fielding an array of nondestructive and destructive counter-space weapons — including jamming and cyberspace capabilities, directed energy weapons, on-orbit capabilities, and ground-based ASAT capabilities — to target US and allied satellites.”
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