Russia satellite test: The truth behind Russia’s mystery ASAT launch – ‘Not operational’

On April 15, Russia risked the ire of America’s Space Force with the launch of a DA-ASAT Nudol interceptor – a direct-ascent anti-satellite mobile missile system. The ASAT system is designed to destroy satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), which the US considers a possible threat to its interests. General John W Raymond, Space Force Chief of Space Operations, branded the test another example of “Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms controls”.

He said: “The United States is ready and committed to deterring aggression and defending the Nation, our allies and US interests from hostile acts in space.”

The test came after a Pentagon report published in 2018 suggested China and Russia would have an arsenal of anti-satellite technology ready for deployment by 2020.

Some security experts, however, are not convinced Russia’s April launch proves Moscow’s ability to shoot down satellites just yet.

Unlike a similar test carried out by India in March 2019, the launch was not an impact test.

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According to Space.com, the launch did not produce a swarm of debris in orbit, meaning it did not hit a target.

And Brian Weeden, director of programme planning for the Secure World Foundation, does not believe the system is fully operational.

Russia is has tested its Nudol system at least 10 times as of May 4.

Mr Weeden discussed the ASAT technology during an April 24 webinar, hosted by the non-profit Secure World Foundation.

He said: “As far as we can tell, it’s not operational.”

But the Nudol test is not the first time Russia’s actions in space have caught the world’s attention.

As far as we can tell, it’s not operational

Brian Weeden, Secure World Foundation

Before the April 15 launch, Moscow conducted “on-orbit test” of two satellites – COSMOS 2542 and 2543 – in February.

According to TIME magazine, the two satellites were caught tailing a multi-billion dollar US spy satellite.

General Raymond warned the actions have the “potential to create a dangerous situation in space”.

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However, Mr Weeden believes Russia is still a long way from successfully deploying its ASAT technology against foreign targets.

He said: “That is probably a least a few years away”.

According to the expert, the Nudol interceptor can target satellites up to 1,240 miles (2,000km) – the upper limit of LEO.

Most US spy satellites are placed in geostationary orbits of about 22,200 miles (35,730km).

And according to Pavel Podvig, director of the Russian Nuclear Forces Project, there is no clear sign ASAT technology is has any useful real-world applications.

He said during the webinar: “Basically, with this kind of ASAT, or even with a more kind of advanced ASAT, it’s hard to imagine a military mission in which this capability would be useful.”

Mr Podvig is a senior research fellow at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research.

He added: “There are clear ways of doing that. You go to distributed capability, you go to smaller satellites, you go to redundancy.

“And in the end, you can shoot down a satellite, but so what?

“In that sense, I’m an optimist. I do believe these capabilities will not be used, just because I do believe that they don’t give you much in terms of military capability.”

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