US says Russia likely launched space weapon

Image source, Roscosmos via Reuters

Screenshot, Russia’s state space agency Roscosmos says its Soyuz-2.1b vehicle, like the one seen in this file photo, was used in the May 17 launch “for the benefit of the Ministry of Defense.”

  • Author, Jaroslav Lukiv
  • Role, bbc news

The United States says Russia last week launched a satellite that it believes could be capable of attacking other similar probes.

“Russia launched a satellite into low-Earth orbit that we consider likely an anti-space weapon,” Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder said Tuesday afternoon.

It was in the “same orbit” as a US government satellite, he said, adding that Washington would continue to monitor the situation and had to be prepared to protect its interests.

Russia has not commented publicly on the issue.

Moscow and Washington, two global rivals, have repeatedly clashed over the issue of space weapons at the UN in recent weeks, with both sides accusing each other of trying to militarize space.

Earlier on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova claimed that the United States was trying to turn space into an “arena for military confrontation.”

Several military experts have long warned that space is likely to be the next frontier of warfare in a world increasingly dependent on technology.

On Tuesday, General Ryder said the Pentagon believed the Russian satellite was “presumably capable of attacking other satellites in low Earth orbit.”

“Russia deployed this new anti-space weapon in the same orbit as a US government satellite.

“And so, the assessments further indicate features that resemble counterspace payloads deployed previously, between 2019 and 2022.

“We have a responsibility to be prepared to protect and defend the space domain and ensure continued and uninterrupted support to the Joint and Combined Force,” the Pentagon spokesperson added.

Separately, a spokesperson for the US Space Command told the Reuters news agency that the satellite was “probably an anti-space weapon, presumably capable of attacking other satellites in low Earth orbit.”

The spokesman said the satellite, Cosmos 2576, was launched on May 16 from Russia’s Plesetsk cosmodrome, about 800 kilometers (497 miles) north of Moscow.

In its statement, Russia’s state space agency Roskosmos said the May 17 launch was “in the interests of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation.” It said its Soyuz-2.1b launch vehicle was used.

The different reported launch dates could be explained by the fact that the Moscow time zone is three hours ahead of GMT.

Neither Moscow nor Washington provided further details.

But space analysts say Cosmos 2576 appears to be in the same orbit as the US satellite USA 314.

Since launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has warned that US satellites assisting the Ukrainian military could become legitimate targets.

In February, the White House admitted that Russia was developing a “troubling” new space weapon but insisted it had not yet deployed it.

It came after a senior Republican congressman issued a cryptic warning about a serious threat to national security, sparking intense rumors in Washington DC.

A report published last year by the Washington DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies suggested that Russia is developing a range of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, including a missile that was successfully tested against a defunct Soviet-era satellite in November 2021. .