Apr 15, 2020 - Science

Russia launches test of anti-satellite weapon

Animated GIF of a constellation in the shape of a soldier

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Russia has staged a test of an anti-satellite weapons system that could take out spacecraft in low Earth orbit, according to a statement from U.S. Space Command today.

Why it matters: The move further escalates tensions between the U.S. and Russia when it comes to military uses of outer space.

What's happening: Not much about the test itself has been publicly disclosed, but a U.S. Space Command's Lt. Col. Christina Hoggatt said via email that they are not tracking any debris from the test at the moment.

  • Last year, a Russian satellite was also found to be shadowing a U.S. spy satellite.
  • "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," Gen. John Raymond, commander of U.S. Space Command, said in the statement.
  • Russia's test comes about a year after India launched a test of its own anti-satellite missile, which created hundreds of pieces of space junk by destroying its own satellite.

The big picture: Nations with the ability to launch anti-satellite missiles held back from using those capabilities against enemies, but experts are concerned that could change in the future.

  • A report from the Secure World Foundation released last month shows that nations around the world are making moves toward further militarization of space.
  • "Right now, there appears to be a norm against using kinetic capabilities, but I fear that could change, particularly in a future high-stakes conflict between a couple of space powers," Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation told Axios at the end of March.
  • Experts are particularly worried that future tests could create pieces of space junk that would make broad swaths of orbit unusable.
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