Mysterious new weapon could threaten satellites in Earth orbit

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The US government has privately warned lawmakers and European allies that Russia is planning to launch a space weapon with possible nuclear capabilities, according to a flurry of reports.

This news came after the release by the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee of the US House, Mike Turner Vague warning of a “serious national security threat” and urged US President Joe Biden to “disclose all information related to this threat” for the purpose of further public discussion. Since then, additional details have emerged in the news about what the Russian mystery weapon could be. Here’s what we know so far.

Does this mean that Russia aims to put nuclear missiles or bombs in space?

It remains unclear. Reports from ABC News And The New York Times Use the term “nuclear weapon”, which may mean a weapon capable of producing an explosion involving nuclear fission or fusion reactions. If this is true, it would violate the law. 1967 Outer Space Treatywhich prohibits signatory nations, including Russia and the United States, from placing nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction in space.

A nuclear explosion in space would not directly harm people on Earth, but it could destroy and disable multiple satellites. When the United States detonated a nuclear bomb in low Earth orbit. Starfish Prime Test in 1962, the resulting radiation damaged or destroyed about a third of the satellites in low Earth orbit at the time.

But there is another possibility that does not involve nuclear weapons.

What else could be Russia’s nuclear capability in space?

Russian space weapons can use nuclear energy to power their spacecraft systems. PBS News Hour US officials described the Russian weapon as “potentially nuclear-capable”.

Both Russia and the United States have used various forms of nuclear power in space for decades. One form involves nuclear fission reactors, such as those found in civilian nuclear plants, powered by an ongoing nuclear chain reactor.

The United States launched an experimental nuclear reactor into space in 1965, while Russia launched at least 34 nuclear reactors on satellites between 1967 and 1988. World Nuclear Association.

The United States, Russia and other countries have also launched space missions powered by radioisotope systems. They use heat from the natural decay of radioactive materials as a source of electricity – but they provide much less electricity than nuclear fission reactors.

What does this Russian space weapon actually do?

News reports agree that the Russian weapon is designed to target satellites in space rather than directly harming anyone or anything on Earth. However, if the weapon is capable of knocking a satellite out of orbit, these objects could fall to the planet’s surface and cause serious damage. If it breaks them up, the resulting cloud of space debris could threaten other satellites or even the International Space Station. It can also trigger one Kessler syndrome A scenario where a chain reaction of space debris gets out of control and makes it virtually impossible for satellites to survive in Earth orbit.

Various countries including Russia, USA, China and India have already experimented. Anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons This includes launching missiles from the ground to shoot down objects in orbit. But countries have been pretty tight-lipped about whether they have actually deployed ASAT weapons in space.

What has Russia said about this potential weapon?

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government called the US warning a “malicious fabrication” aimed at encouraging the US Congress to pass a bill authorizing more military aid to Ukraine. Reuters. Ever since Russia launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the US and Europe have been supporting it. Ukrainian military resistance against the Russian forces

Why does Russia want a new anti-satellite weapon?

Satellites are important for both military and civilian applications that greatly impact modern life. They monitor weather, power GPS systems, provide space-based surveillance and enable communications – for example, SpaceX’s swarm. Starlink satellites has proved to be important for Ukrainian military forces. In coordinating drone and artillery strikes against Russian forces on the battlefield.

The Russian space weapon “has the electronic warfare capability to target U.S. satellites that are vital to U.S. military and civilian communications,” U.S. officials said, according to PBS NewsHour.

According to one, Russia has spent years developing space-based electronic warfare systems capable of jamming communications signals to and from satellites. Reports From the Secure World Foundation, a space security organization based in Colorado. Victoria Samson at the Secure World Foundation said That such Russian space weapons could be nuclear powered.

So how dangerous could this new anti-satellite weapon be?

The good news is that if this space weapon jams satellites instead of artificially destroying them, it won’t cause catastrophic space debris scenarios like Kessler syndrome. However, it can still be dangerous.

A space weapon that uses electronic warfare to jam signals can effectively disable a satellite. This could disrupt critical battlefield communications, let alone. GPS guided system Inefficient, blind spy satellites make it more difficult for the US to coordinate its military forces around the world.