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US believes Russia launched space weapon in American satellite path − Reuters

Wednesday, 22 May 2024, 08:45
US believes Russia launched space weapon in American satellite path − Reuters
Launch of Soyuz-2.1b rocket from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on 16 May. Photo: Russia's State Space Corporation ROSCOSMOS

US defence intelligence believes that the satellite Russia launched last week is a weapon capable of inspecting and attacking other satellites, as the Russian space apparatus has been tracking a US spy satellite in orbit.

Source: Reuters with reference to a statement of the US Space Command

Details: Reuters reported that the Russian Soyuz rocket was launched from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome on 16 May, placing at least nine satellites into low-Earth orbit. Among them is COSMOS 2576, a type of Russian military "inspector" spacecraft, which US officials have long condemned for "exhibiting reckless space behaviour".


Quote from a USSPACECOM representative: "We have observed nominal activity and assess it is likely a counterspace weapon presumably capable of attacking other satellites in low Earth orbit. Russia deployed this new counterspace weapon into the same orbit as a US government satellite."

Reuters reiterated that Russia has previously placed its satellites near sensitive American spy satellites. 

It is reported that US intelligence agencies expected the COSMOS 2576 launch and informed allies about their assessment of the satellite even before it was deployed in space. The latest Russian launch also included civilian satellites placed into different orbits.


Analyst Bart Hendrickx, who has long tracked the Russian space programme, called the combination of military and civilian payloads "totally unexpected" and noted that he has "never seen that before on a Russian launch".

Reuters noted that COSMOS 2576 is similar to satellites that Russia launched in 2019 and 2022, which the US also labelled as anti-satellite weapons. Notably, the 2019 satellite released an object into space and closely monitored a US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite. NRO is an intelligence agency that oversees spy satellites.

COSMOS 2576 had not approached the US satellite as of Tuesday, but space analysts observed that it is in the same orbital ring as USA 314, an NRO satellite the size of a bus launched in April 2021. 

"The Russian satellite appears to be trailing USA 314's orbital path at a faster speed, suggesting the two will eventually come into closer proximity," Reuters wrote.

Reuters emphasised that the Russian satellite deployment occurs amid US accusations that Russia is developing space-based nuclear weapons capable of destroying entire satellite networks.

US officials familiar with intelligence data believe that Russia has launched at least one satellite, namely COSMOS 2553, associated with its programme to develop space-based nuclear weapons. 

However, the officials stated that Russia has not deployed nuclear weapons in space.

Russia has secreted much of its space activities since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and has threatened to attack US satellites, such as SpaceX's Starlink, which assist Ukrainian military defence efforts.

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