Contrails left after a Russian anti-satellite weapon test on April 15, 2020
Contrails left after a Russian anti-satellite weapon test on April 15, 2020

Russia has been engaged in direct ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) anti-satellite weapon tests in the past months. On April 15 a missile launch from the Plesetsk test site on the arctic circle. Initially, it was unclear what missile was launched that day or if that missile actually hit any space objects, like an old Russian satellite.

Russian media sources reports said the missile tested called ‘Nudol’ has reached over 7,000 m/sec, thus positioned in the ‘hypersonic‘ category. Prior to the test, large airspace along the missile’s flight path was closed, with an area typical for a two-staged missile. en. John W. “Jay” Raymound, USSPACECOM commander and U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations called the test a real, serious, and growing threat to the U.S. and allied space systems.

Nudol missile test
A Nudol missile tested in 2018. Photo: Russian Defense Ministry.

Other tests of anti-satellite weapon systems were previously conducted under the “Sistema A-235 / RTTS-181M Nudol” program which has been tested at least nine times in the past. Those tests simulated a target impact to avert creating excessive space debris. Nudol was developed as part of the Russian strategic missile defense capability can be armed with a blast fragmentation or nuclear warhead.

In February 2020 the US Space Command raised the awareness on another Russian initiative – on-orbit testing of a satellite interceptor comprising two satellites, the COSMOS 2542 and COSMOS 2543. These satellites, have “exhibited characteristics of a space weapon.” According to the blog site Russian strategic nuclear forces, published by security and nuclear disarmament expert Pavel Podvig, the Cosmos-2542 satellite in December last year released what appeared to be an inspector satellite, the Cosmos-2543, which then was tailing a U.S. spy satellite, an act Space Command interpreted the “irresponsible and potentially threatening.”

Several countries have already demonstrated the capability to conduct ASAT operations. Russia, China, and India. The US has also developed air-launched ASAT weapons. Other countries like China, Iran, and North Korea have used high power lasers to blind and potentially damage the sensors of reconnaissance satellites.

“This test is further proof of Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control proposals designed to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting their counter-space weapons programs.” Gen. Raymound said.