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US accuses Russia of launching space weapon trailing American satellite

US accuses Russia of launching space weapon trailing American satellite
22 May 2024

The US Space Command is closely monitoring a Russian satellite, launched on May 16 from the Plesetsk site, which is trailing an American spy satellite in orbit.

Identified as COSMOS 2576, this Russian military "inspector" spacecraft has drawn criticism from US officials, due to its potentially hazardous behavior.

The spokesperson for the US Space Command stated that they have observed "nominal activity and assess it is likely a counterspace weapon presumably capable of attacking other satellites in low Earth orbit."

Russian satellite shares orbit with US counterpart
Shared orbit

The spokesperson for the US Space Command further noted that, "Russia deployed this new counterspace weapon into the same orbit as a US government satellite."

The COSMOS 2576 is similar to previously launched counterspace payloads from 2019 as well as 2022.

These past instances involved Russia positioning satellites in close proximity to sensitive US spy satellites, raising concerns among American officials.

Prior to the launch of COSMOS 2576, US intelligence agencies had anticipated its deployment and informed their allies accordingly.

Unexpected mix of military and civilian satellites
Unusual launch

The launch of COSMOS 2576 also included the deployment of civilian satellites to different orbits, a move not seen before in a Russian launch.

Bart Hendrickx, an analyst tracking Russia's space program, commented on this unusual occurrence stating, "This mix of military and civilian payloads was totally unexpected. Never seen that before on a Russian launch."

Russian satellite trailing US NRO satellite
Orbital tracking

COSMOS 2576 has been observed in the same orbital ring as USA 314, a NRO bus-sized satellite, launched by the US in April 2021.

According to a review of orbital data in Space Command's public satellite catalog by Reuters, the Russian satellite seems to be trailing USA 314's orbital path at a faster speed.

This development comes amid allegations by the US that Russia is developing space-based nuclear weapons capable of destroying entire networks of satellites.

Russia's alleged development of space-based nuclear weapons

The US has accused Russia of developing a space-based nuclear weapon that can annihilate entire satellite networks.

Officials believe that Russia has launched at least one satellite related to its space-based nuclear weapon program.

However, they have confirmed that Russia has not yet deployed a nuclear weapon in outer space.

This comes as tensions rise following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and subsequent threats to attack US satellites helping Ukraine's defense, such as SpaceX's Starlink network.