Even with the world grappling to control the coronavirus pandemic, there’s still time for a bit of sabre-rattling between the US and Russia.
According to the US Space Command, the Russian military has conducted another test of a missile system capable of knocking satellites out of orbit.
This is believed to be the 10th such test of this anti-satellite (ASAT) missile defence system and the US really isn’t happy about it.
‘Russia’s DA-ASAT test provides yet another example that the threats to U.S. and allied space systems are real, serious and growing,’ said Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, US Space Command commander and U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations.
‘The United States is ready and committed to deterring aggression and defending the Nation, our allies and U.S. interests from hostile acts in space.’
Russia has been working on this technology since 2014 and last conducted a test in November 2019.
At the moment, the system is literally just a ballistic missile attached to a mobile land vehicle. It’s capable of moving about and launching from various locations on Earth – making it more difficult to defend against than a static missile launch site.
‘This test is further proof of Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control proposals designed to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting their counterspace weapons programs,’ Raymond said.
‘It is a shared interest and responsibility of all spacefaring nations to create safe, stable and operationally sustainable conditions for space activities, including commercial, civil and national security activities,’ he said.
It’s been suggested that Russia used one of its own satellites – a disused spacecraft in this case – as a basis for the test. The country hasn’t yet attempted to hit a moving or operational target, as far as analysts can tell.
ASAT tests are a show of strength from countries but they’ve been widely condemned by the scientific community. A satellite blown to pieces by a missile simply creates hundreds of thousands of pieces of space debris that can hang around for months or years.
These pieces pose a threat to other satellites and also any spacecraft that happens to pass by.
Meanwhile, the UK needs to build a space force and get ready to fight terrorists and wage war in the heavens, industry leaders warned last year.
In the future, terrorists and nation-states will be able to wreak economic havoc by targeting communications satellites. The incoming president of UK Space, Will Whitehorn, has said ‘we will see and should see the creation of a space force in the UK’ to help protect the nation against these new threats.
Speaking at the UK Space Conference in Newport, the former president of Virgin Galactic said: ‘My view is that as we go forward, there clearly has to be a complete and utter co-ordination of the way that government at all levels responds to the industrialisation of space.
‘We are about to go through an industrial revolution in space, and it will be nothing short of that.
‘We are at the stage where a lot of technologies have been developed that can do many of the things – that if you were listening to Greta at the UN yesterday, or you see what is going on in the reality of climate change – a lot of the industrial processes or necessities that we will need are going to be up there, in that hostile environment in space.
‘If we do that then we have to be able to defend ourselves in space, if we know there are non-state and state actors who may be inclined to disrupt in the future the ability of any nation state to operate commercially in space.’
Whitehorn said that a time was coming when having ‘a co-ordinated approach to space across all of our military is going to be important’.
He explained that it was not the role of UK Space, the space trade association, to be involved in that directly.
But he said its role as the commercial representative of the industry was to make it clear that when dealing with hostile situations, it is better to have somebody out there who is going to protect the interests of all in space.
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