The National Interest: the threat of Russian killer satellites
24 August in the The Buzz section of the publication published the material “Russia's All-Russian Space Satellites: A Real Threat or a Paper Tiger?" to the question in the title of the article.
At the beginning of the publication, the author recalled statements from the recent past. A few weeks ago, during an international conference on disarmament in Geneva, US official spokesman Ile Poblet accused Russia of building and launching spacecraft to orbit for destroying other satellites. However, Moscow denies these allegations and claims that this is a satellite-inspectors. Such devices can maneuver and change the orbit, which allows them to pass alongside other space technology, carrying out its diagnostics or even repair.
S. Roblin notes that both of these versions may be true. A highly maneuverable spacecraft capable of approaching and repairing other equipment can also disable satellites. In accordance with international agreements, the full-fledged combat platforms with weapons. At the same time, the solution of combat missions may be assigned to inspector satellites with special capabilities.
According to the available data, since 2013, Russia has put 4 inspection inspectors into orbit. They belong to the Cosmos series and have the numbers 2491, 2499, 2504 and 2519. The lack of open information about goals and objectives, as well as the specific nature of the work of such devices became the reason for the recent statements of I. Polet. American experts observed how Russian inspecting satellites perform maneuvering and pass alongside other vehicles in different orbits.
For example, in the 2014 year, Russia, without warning the world community, sent the Kosmos-2499 spacecraft into orbit. The atmosphere of secrecy has led to the emergence of versions according to which this product is actually a "killer satellite." At the same time, Russian sources claimed that this device is a platform for testing a plasma / ion engine (this technology looks just as impressive as its name), which, however, did not contradict the version of the satellite’s combat mission. In 2013, Cosmos-2491 was put into orbit. It is noteworthy that its launch was not covered in open sources, although three other non-classified ones went into space with this device.
Last year, the Russian space apparatus 2504 approached one of the large fragments of a Chinese satellite that was destroyed by the PLA with a special rocket in the recent past. S. Roblin notes that the considered satellites of the Cosmos family usually stay idle for a long time, after which they begin to make sudden maneuvers. This feature of their work becomes the reason for various suspicions and versions.
In June 2017, the satellite-inspector Cosmos-2519 was taken out. Soon, the Cosmos-2521 apparatus, which, in turn, dropped the Cosmos-2523 product, separated from it. In the summer of this year, three special satellites performed a series of strange and unusual maneuvers. Such activity in orbit was another reason for accusations from the United States.
S. Roblin asks the question: how exactly should the "killer satellite" destroy the assigned targets? The simplest methods are the use of mechanical manipulators and a banal ram. However, other, less crude options are possible. The enemy’s satellites can be hit with lasers, small kinetic damage elements or using electronic warfare.
The author notes that Russia is not the only country that has satellites with the possibility of combat use, at least through the use of kinetic energy. So, as part of the US space group there are also satellites-inspectors, which, however, are being built using more advanced technologies. A Phoenix satellite is currently being developed, which should be able to carry a variety of small devices for various purposes. With the help of the latter, it is proposed to disrupt the work of enemy vehicles or even to “steal” them.
Also, the United States Air Force has a pair of X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle orbiting planes that are already being tested. The real tasks and capabilities of such a technique are still unknown, which leads to the appearance of various rumors and conjectures. In particular, it can be assumed that such equipment, among other things, will be able to deal with satellites of a potential enemy.
S. Roblin suggests that China is also looking for opportunities to equip its spacecraft. In 2013, the Chinese space industry launched the Shijian-15 satellite, equipped with high-precision maneuvering engines and manipulators. According to open data, such a satellite was designed to collect space debris. Also with its help it was supposed to conduct experiments on refueling and repair of other devices directly in orbit. During one of the experiments, the passage of the Shakjian-15 satellite was observed in the immediate vicinity of the Shijian-7. In this regard, the version was expressed, according to which the new device is also capable of carrying out the “hijacking” of space technology.
China and the United States have already tested their anti-satellite missiles launched from the ground and hitting targets in orbit. Russia, as far as is known, also creates similar weapons. S. Roblin believes that the deployment of specialized killer satellites in orbit is more complex than the creation and operation of ground-based anti-satellite missiles. At the same time, orbital combat systems have certain advantages. First of all, working with high accuracy, the spacecraft will solve the task without the formation of a large number of debris and fragments, which the missile can leave.
Thus, the use of special satellites allows us to exclude unforeseen consequences associated with large space debris. The author reminds that scientists really fear the development of events, similar to that shown in the movie “Gravity”, when a destroyed satellite launches a real chain reaction from explosions of other devices.
The author notes that the sphere of dual-use spacecraft is rather difficult to regulate in terms of regulations and laws. However, some projects involve the use of missiles, lasers and guns - is this not prohibited by agreements? S. Robin immediately reminds us that the 1967 Space Treaty prohibits only the weapons of mass destruction being launched into space.
However, there is an unofficial international standard, according to which no weapons are sent at all to space. It is generally respected, but there have been some exceptions. For example, in the eighties, the United States spent a lot of time and effort on its Strategic Defense Initiative, which provided for the deployment in orbit of many combat satellites for missile defense. However, a full-fledged missile defense system based on spacecraft was never built.
The Soviet Union, responding to the American PIO, organized the launching of the Polyus vehicle, a model of the Skif system armed with a 1 MW laser, into orbit. Combat laser was designed to destroy American satellites. Due to problems with the inertial navigation system, the Pole was unable to reach a given orbit and collapsed into the Pacific Ocean. In addition, S. Robin recalls that in the seventies at the Soviet orbital stations "Almaz" was installed 30-mm turret automatic gun. There were even fire tests with firing at the target satellite.
Russia currently insists on tightening international regulations on the placement of weapons in space. Such ideas are promoted through the Commission on Disarmament at the UN, which previously created modern norms on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, as well as on the prohibition of chemical and biological. A set of measures called “Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS)” is proposed. Also with the support of China, the Russian side put forward an additional proposal, known as PWTT.
Washington is not in a hurry to support the Russian proposal. This position is based on the fact that the United States, in their opinion, has an advantage in the field of space groupings, and Russia and China intend to fight with the satellites of a potential enemy with the help of ground-based weapons. The latter is not likely to be banned, and therefore the US does not see the point in supporting PWTT. The United States points out that in order for PAROS to be more effective, it is necessary to prohibit the use of ground-based anti-satellite weapons.
S. Roblin points out that the UN Disarmament Council has been virtually ineffective over the past two decades. In addition, in connection with the system of change of chairmanship on the basis of the alphabetical list, recently the council was headed by Syria, which, it is alleged, itself uses chemical weapons.
The author believes that in the foreseeable future, the war in space will do without human casualties. At the same time, its influence will be acutely felt by the civilian population on Earth. Satellite navigation, wireless, etc. systems that use spacecraft and already seem to be an essential attribute of everyday life are subject to certain risks. The failure of these systems will affect not only the military, but also ordinary people.
The Pentagon, as well as the Russian and Chinese commanders, believe that in the event of a high-intensity conflict they will not have to rely on navigation and communications satellites actively used in peacetime. Thus, the GPS navigation system has found application in the creation of guided weapons, but new models of this kind are already being developed using reserve inertial navigation. This will allow solving combat missions in conditions of destruction or suppression of navigation satellites.
The recent statements by officials in Geneva, according to S. Robin, underline the fact that the arms race has begun in space, which, however, still remains secretive. Leading countries are creating their own military space groups and use for this purpose both specialized systems and dual-purpose projects. Various methods of suppressing enemy groups have been studied, and not all of them provide for the direct destruction of a satellite with a direct blow.
The author of The National Interest believes that the United States, Russia and China could sign a new reliable agreement against the militarization of outer space, and this, among other things, would allow them to save billions of dollars. However, at present, these countries do not seem to want to sign such a treaty, as they plan to increase their space groupings and increase their anti-satellite capabilities. Leading states are planning to ensure their security by creating asymmetric advantages over potential adversaries.
The article "Russia's' Killer Space Satellites: A Real Threat or a Paper Tiger?":
Subscribe and stay up to date with the latest news and the most important events of the day.