U.S. Space Command Says Russia Has Again Tested Direct-Ascent ASAT

U.S. Space Command on Dec. 16 said that Russia has again tested a direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missile.

“Russia publicly claims it is working to prevent the transformation of outer space into a battlefield, yet at the same time Moscow continues to weaponize space by developing and fielding on-orbit and ground-based capabilities that seek to exploit U.S. reliance on space-based systems,” U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, U.S. Space Command commander, said in a statement.

The kinetic DA-ASAT, which Russia has tested “multiple times,” could destroy satellites in low-earth orbit (LEO) and create “a large debris field that could endanger commercial satellites and irrevocably pollute the space domain,” Space Command said.

Last month, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, the head of the Royal Air Force, said that such an increased debris density “may contribute to reaching a threshold in low earth orbit that could start a chain reaction of follow-on collisions – the Kessler effect, leaving parts of space completely unusable.” (Defense Daily, Nov. 17).

Brian Weeden, the director of program planning for the Secure World Foundation and a former Air Force officer who specialized in space situational awareness, said on Twitter on Dec. 16 that the new Russian test “was likely another test of the ground-based Nudol missile, which could be used either for ASAT or BMD [ballistic missile defense].”

Weeden said that it was unlikely that there was a target in space. The Russian Nudol is a ballistic missile designed to intercept satellites in LEO.

In addition to the DA-ASAT, Russia is developing “a co-orbital ASAT, a space-based weapon system, which demonstrated an on-orbit kinetic weapon in 2017 and again in 2020,” U.S. Space Command said. “Furthermore, in March 2018, President Putin announced the development of a ground-based laser system for use by the Russian Space Forces, which the Russian military acknowledged as a ‘combat laser system.'” This pattern of behavior would be considered potentially threatening in any other domain.”

Dickinson said on Dec. 16 that Space Command is “ready and committed to deter aggression and defend our nation and our allies from hostile acts in space.”

“Space is critical to all nations,” he said. “It is a shared interest to create the conditions for a safe, stable, and operationally sustainable space environment. The demands on the space systems continue in this time of crisis where global logistics, transportation, and communications are key to defeating the COVID-19 pandemic.”