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Photo: NASA

On July 15, Russia ratcheted up international tensions by testing what appears to be a weapon to destroy enemy satellites in space, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. But this is far from the first time the country has put on a display of force in orbit.

Why it matters: Russia has been building out its space weapons capabilities for years. The recent test — which did not destroy a satellite — comes after Russia staged another anti-satellite test of a different kind of system in April.

Driving the news: Russia's Cosmos 2543 satellite appeared to release a projectile near another Russian satellite on July 15.

  • Cosmos 2543 had been flying near a powerful U.S. spy satellite before the test.
  • The test may be part of a Russian program to develop a space-based anti-satellite weapon that could one day be launched from aircraft, the Secure World Foundation's Brian Weeden tells me.
  • However, information is sparse, and it's not clear exactly where this test fits in within Russia's broader capabilities.
  • The test was also similar to another Russian test staged in 2017.

The big picture: Space is a warfighting domain. The U.S. military relies on satellite imagery and other data beamed back to Earth by a small group of extremely powerful satellites to make accurate decisions about strategy.

  • That small number of high-powered National Reconnaissance Office satellites can actually be something of a liability for the U.S., Weeden added.
  • This small number of particularly expensive satellites make them very high-value targets, putting them at risk.
  • On the other hand: "China has been developing a lot of these similar capabilities, but they're doing it a different way. So they have satellites that do imagery and signals and stuff, but they've got like 140 of them," Weeden said. "They're not nearly as good as what the NRO has, but they're good enough."

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Nov 3, 2020 - Science

A brief history of voting from space

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and her orbiting voting booth. Photo: NASA

One vote in the 2020 U.S. presidential election wasn’t cast from a voting booth or by mail, but from 250 miles up aboard the International Space Station.

The big picture: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins is far from the first person to exercise her civic duty from orbit. Cosmonauts and astronauts have voted from space for decades.

7 mins ago - Health

COVID cases and deaths keep falling

Expand chart
Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

America’s coronavirus outbreak is rapidly improving as the Delta wave recedes, and vaccines for kids — which could become available within weeks — will help the situation improve even further.

By the numbers: Nationwide, the U.S. is now averaging about 79,000 new cases per day — a 22% drop over the past two weeks.

3 hours ago - Health

India crosses 1 billion COVID vaccinations milestone

A health worker inoculates a COVID-19 vaccine dose to a man wearing a face mask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Beawar, India, in September. Photo: Sumit Saraswat/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Thursday that the country's health workers have now administered more than 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines doses.

Of note: While this is a significant milestone for the country of 1.4 billion, which has been devastated by the coronavirus, only about 30% of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated against the virus, per AP. Roughly 75% has received at least one dose.