The US has voiced concerns that a Russian satellite is performing malicious activities in orbit – although industry experts have expressed doubts about those claims.
On August 14 at the UN Conference on Disarmament in Switzerland, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Yleem Poblete said the US was “concerned with what appears to be very abnormal behavior” from a Russian satellite. Although not stated in her comments, IFLScience understands the satellite is Kosmos-2519, launched on June 23, 2017.
Poblette said that “Russian intentions with respect to this satellite are unclear and are obviously a very troubling development.” She highlighted previous comments from Russia’s Space Force Commander, who said they were looking to add new weapon prototypes into the Russian Space Force.
And there have been previous suggestions that Russian President Vladimir Putin is intent on building anti-satellite technology. Reports have indicated they have developed an interceptor missile that could destroy a satellite in orbit.
Russia has responded to the latest comments from Poblete, with a delegate telling Reuters the remarks were “unfounded and slanderous”.
It’s not entirely clear what the US is claiming Kosmos-2519 has been up to. If they were testing anti-satellite technology, this could be anything from lasers to microwaves to stop satellites working, or even a net and harpoon – as has been tested recently by the UK for de-orbiting space junk.
However, one industry expert told IFLScience that they doubted the claims from the US. They suggested Poblete was instead “mainly drumming up support for military space funding by the US, mixed with paranoia,” and suggested the Russian satellite was harmless.
Another expert noted that US intelligence likely possesses the technology necessary to see what Kosmos-2519 was up to. So claims that the Russian satellite's activities were a mystery may have been exaggerated for political purposes.
President Donald Trump has long been pushing to create a Space Force as a sixth branch of the military in the US. While Congress doesn’t seem to agree, the Trump administration has been attempting to make a case for it.
“The space environment has fundamentally changed in the last generation,” Vice President Mike Pence said last week in Virginia. “What was once peaceful and uncontested is now crowded and adversarial. Today, other nations are seeking to disrupt our space-based systems and challenge American supremacy in space as never before.”
He cited a widely condemned anti-satellite missile test from China in 2007 as an example of this – although failed to mention the US performed a similar test in 1985.
Poblete's accusation also came as Russia and China continue to push for a treaty to prevent an arms race in space, which the US has long opposed. These latest comments suggest that will not change any time soon.