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Russia Tests Anti-Satellite Weapon |

Russia Tests Anti-Satellite Weapon

Context

∙ The US has confirmed that Russia is developing a space-based weapon that is a ‘serious threat to national security’.

What are anti-satellite weapons?

∙ Anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons are designed to debilitate and/or destroy satellites that are already in orbit and operational. 

∙ Most of these weapons are kinetic, i.e. they destroy satellites in orbit by rocketing into them or detonating an explosive near them, and blowing them to pieces. 

∙ Because of the low gravity and lack of an atmosphere, the resulting debris can stay in orbit for a long time depending on their size.

∙ ASAT weapons violate the Outer Space Treaty (OST) through

∙ Article VII, which holds parties to the treaty liable for damaging satellites belonging to other parties 

∙ Article IX, which asks parties to refrain from the “harmful contamination” of space.

Space weapons in the past

∙ The U.S. in 1962 in a high-altitude test called Starfish Prime detonated a thermonuclear bomb 400 km above ground. It remains the largest nuclear test conducted in space.

∙ It set off an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and the charged particles and radiation emitted was accelerated by the earth’s magnetic field, distorting the ionosphere and resulting in bright aurorae.

∙ The Soviet Union also conducted high-altitude nuclear tests during the same period, which is Test 184.

∙ The resulting EMP induced a very high current in 500 km of electric cables and eventually triggered a fire that burned down a power plant.

Why has space emerged as the new battlefield?

∙ Military Significance of Space: Space has immense strategic importance due to its role in enabling communication, navigation, reconnaissance, and surveillance capabilities for military operations.

∙ Competing Interests: As space becomes more accessible and economically valuable, there is a growing competition among countries for space resources, such as valuable minerals and water on celestial bodies. 

∙ National Security Concerns: Countries perceive safeguarding their space assets as critical to their national security interests. As a result, they invest in deploying capabilities to protect their assets and degrade those of potential adversaries, leading to militarization of the space.

∙ Technological Advances: Advances in technology have led to the proliferation of capabilities that could be used for offensive purposes in space, such as anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, cyber warfare tools targeting space systems, and directed energy weapons.

Outer Space Treaty (OST)

∙ The Treaty was opened for signature by the three depository Governments (the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States of America) in January 1967, and it entered into force in October 1967. 

∙ It provides the basic framework on international space law, including the following principles:

∙ The exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;

∙ Outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;

∙ Outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;

∙ States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;

∙ The Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;

∙ Astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind;

∙ States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental entities;

∙ States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects; and

∙ States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

Mission Shakti– Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in 2019 successfully neutralized a satellite in space with its anti-satellite (ASAT) missile in Mission Shakti.– The satellite downed by the ASAT missile was Microsat-R, an imaging satellite in the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) at 300 km in space.– Significance: Anti-satellite weapons provide the capability to shoot down enemy satellites in orbit thereby disrupting critical communications and surveillance capabilities. A. ASAT missiles also act as a space deterrent in dissuading adversaries from targeting the country’s satellite network.
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