Russian satellite test had 'characteristics of weapon,' says UK space chief

23 July 2020, 16:55 | Updated: 23 July 2020, 17:53

The Russian satellite launch has caused concern in the UK and the US
The Russian satellite launch has caused concern in the UK and the US. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

A Russian satellite launch has caused "concern" after it displayed "the characteristics of a weapon," the UK's space program leader has said.

Air Vice-Marshal Harvey Smyth, Head of the UK's Space Directorate, criticised the test launch and branded Moscow's behaviour "irresponsible."

Mr Smyth warned there is a risk the launch could damage other systems that the rest of the world is heavily reliant on.

The UK space chief said Russia's actions could "threaten the peaceful use of space and risk causing debris that could pose a threat to satellites and the space systems on which the world depends."

The US also condemned the action, describing the event as a test of an anti-satellite weapon.

In an unusual move, he took to Twitter to condemn the launch and urged Moscow to end to its tests, amid concerns Russia is developing a space-based weapon.

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He wrote: "We are concerned by the manner in which Russia tested one of its satellites by launching a projectile with the characteristics of a weapon.

"Actions of this kind threaten the peaceful use of space and risk causing debris that could pose a threat to satellites and the space systems on which the world depends.

"We call on Russia to avoid any further such testing. We also urge Russia to continue to work constructively with the UK and other partners to encourage responsible behaviour in space."

It is the first time the UK has openly criticised Russia for this sort of activity, despite Moscow having carried out tests like this before.

The launch of the projectile, from a Russian "inspector satellite" called Cosmos 2543, was described by the US as a "hostile act" that it finds concerning.

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Few details are known about the object - fired last Wednesday, but only just made public - however the US Space Force has described it as a "non-destructive test of a space-based anti-satellite weapon."

The US space command said Russia "injected a new object into orbit" from the satellite Cosmos 2543.

"The Russian satellite system used to conduct this on-orbit weapons test is the same satellite system that we raised concerns about earlier this year when Russia manoeuvred near a US government satellite," said General Jay Raymond, US Space Force chief of space operations.

"This is further evidence of Russia's continuing efforts to develop and test space-based systems, and consistent with the Kremlin's published military doctrine to employ weapons that hold US and allied space assets at risk."

A defence source told Sky News Moscow had "crossed a line."

They said: "Although Russia has carried out tests similar to this before, they never done one on this scale. This is one step closer to the weaponisation of space. Star wars is closer to reality."

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