Russia threatens commercial satellites that Pentagon sees as its future

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On Thursday evening SpaceX launched another of its Falcon 9 rockets into space, its 49th rocket in 2022, a record that continues to launch rockets about once every six days. This carried away 53 Starlink satellites to orbit, adding to the constellation that now has more than 3,000 in operation — more satellites than the rest of the world combined, according to analysts.

On Tuesday, SpaceX will launch a more powerful rocket, Falcon Heavy. This time, the customer is the US Space Force and the payload is strictly classified.

During launch comes as tension United States and Russia The highs come amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and days after Russia threatened to target commercial satellites, which have been a boon to Ukraine and its allies during the war.

The launch is another sign of the Pentagon’s growing reliance on its commercial space sector, which has become more capable at the same time space has become an increasingly competitive domain. That partnership was even codified in National Defense Policy The Department of Defense released earlier this week: “We will increase collaboration with the private sector in priority areas, particularly with the commercial space industry, leveraging its technological advances and entrepreneurship to enable new capabilities.”

But while those technologies — cheap, reusable rockets that fly more frequently, small satellites that can be launched by the dozen — play a broader role in the nation’s defense and intelligence arsenal, national security officials know they could pose a threat. However, it is not clear what will happen after that.

Commercial satellites test the rules of war in the Russia-Ukraine conflict

“I’m sure my counterparts in Russia, whoever they are, are not very happy with Starlink because they’re helping Ukraine,” Lt. Gen. John Shaw, deputy commander of the US Space Command, said here. A space conference monday “And with commercial images like Maxar’s products, which are making news about things happening around the world, I don’t think they’re too happy about it. And we know that they’re probably going to try to shut down those commercial services because they’re against Russia’s national interest.

A few days later, a senior Russian official proved him prophetic and threatened commercial satellites Meeting at the United Nations.

In a speech, Konstantin Vorontsov, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Non-Proliferation and Armaments Department, said the proliferation of privately operated satellites is “a very dangerous trend that goes beyond the harmless use of outer-space technology, and it has become evident during this time.” Latest developments in Ukraine.

He warned that “quasi-civilian infrastructure could become legitimate targets for retaliation.”

When asked about this threat, White House Press Secretary Dr Thursday Karin Jean-Pierre She reiterated earlier comments from her counterpart in the Pentagon, saying that “any attack on US infrastructure will be responded to, as you heard from my colleague, at a time and in a manner of our choosing. And that still stands. We are committed to detecting, deterring and holding Russia accountable for any such attacks.” All avenues will be pursued. Obviously, I’m not going to put them here … in a public place. But we’ve made ourselves very clear.”

The threats have not slowed the Pentagon’s use of commercial space technology, which is developing rapidly.

“A lot of the innovation in space is coming from business, not government, and that’s a big change from previous decades,” said Brian Weeden, director of program planning at the Secure World Foundation, a think tank. “The big challenge is how does the US military take advantage of that? It’s a different way of doing business.”

Ukraine and its Western allies rely on several commercial companies from the United States, including Planet and Maxar Technologies, which provide real-time satellite imagery of the battlefield, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which operates the Starlink satellite constellation. Keeping Ukraine Online Despite Russian Attacks on Terrestrial Communications Systems, Internet Access

The Pentagon isn’t just looking for big rockets to launch bigger, better satellites. It has shown extraordinary interest in small rockets, designed to fly frequently and respond quickly to ground conditions with little notice.

The Pentagon and US intelligence agencies have taken a keen interest in Virgin Orbit, a small launch company founded by Richard Branson. Instead of launching a rocket from a vertical launchpad on the ground, the company tucks its boosters under the wing of a 747 plane that carries it aloft. It then releases the rocket, which fires its engine and flies into space. This allows the company to launch from any runway that can accommodate a 747-sized aircraft.

Russia is adept at jamming satellites and has repeatedly tried to disable the Starlink system, although it remains online, US officials say. Last year, Russia fired a missile that destroyed a dead satellite in a test that demonstrated its ability to target sensitive spacecraft.

That’s why the Pentagon increasingly relies on constellations of small satellites. A knock or two and there are dozens more to pick up the slack. And since then They are relatively cheapMore can take their place.

The Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy document also noted the adoption of that technology: “In the space domain, the Department will reduce adversary incentives for early attack by fielding diverse, flexible and redundant satellite constellations.”

Derek Tournier, director of the Space Force’s Space Development Agency, said this week that swarms of satellites make them more difficult to target. According to SpaceNews. “How many Starlink satellites have the Russians shot down?” The answer, he said, is “zero.”

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