A defence source has said “star wars is closer to reality” after Moscow was accused of threatening the “peaceful use of space”.
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The man in charge of Britain’s space programmes has publicly criticised Russia for a satellite test launch “with the characteristics of a weapon”.
In an unusual intervention, Air Vice-Marshal Harvey Smyth 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”.
He added in a tweet: “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.”
Air Vice-Marshal @HarvSmyth, director of the UK's Space Directorate, has responded to a recent Russian satellite test in space: pic.twitter.com/zGdGwCemmR
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) July 23, 2020
Air Vice-Marshal Smyth’s comments mark the first time that the Ministry of Defence has publicly criticised Russian actions in space.
The launch could represent a step towards the militarisation of space.
If a country can shoot down or disable its own satellite, then it could feasibly do the same to an enemy.
The object was fired into orbit from Cosmos 2543, which Russia lists as an “inspector satellite”. It is not the first time Russia has carried out a test of this kind, and it’s feared Moscow is developing a space-based weapon.
The US has described the Russian missile test as a “hostile act” and added that it is “concerning”.
The test, which took place last Wednesday, has only just been made public.
Little details are known about the type of projectile fired, but the US Space Force has described it as a “non-destructive test of a space-based anti-satellite weapon”.
A UK defence source told Sky News it had “crossed a line”.
They said: “Although Russia has carried out tests similar to this before, they have 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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General John Raymond, head of US Space Command, said: “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 maneuvered near a US government satellite.
“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.”
Russia has also been carrying out tests on ground-based missile systems designed to shoot down satellites. A system known as Nudol has been tested more than ten times since 2015.
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The Nudol consists of a mobile land vehicle with a ballistic missile attached, capable of driving around and launching from various locations on Earth.
Other nations, such as China, India and the US, have similar capabilities.
Details about the test have emerged as Boris Johnson is preparing to give security services more powers to stop foreign interference in Britain. It will happen under new laws to combat the threat of Russian spies.
The moved was announced after a long-awaited parliamentary report into Russian interference in UK politics was finally released