The future of space cooperation remains uncertain due to the Russia-Ukraine war

By Girish Linganna

The ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia has thrown the whole world into Tenerhuk. Across the planet, supply chains are under tremendous pressure, consumer sentiment is hit hard, and global economic growth is shrouded in a big cloud. Even the technology sector, which has seen massive growth over the past two years, has taken a huge hit. But what about space – the ultimate frontier for humanity?

As of May 2022, space relations between the countries are also on Tenterhook. Even the International Space Station (ISS), which floats about 400 kilometers from Earth’s surface, is not immune to the effects of war and related politics. Although the United States has promised to take part in ISS-related missions by 2030, Russia has shown no interest.

Meanwhile, China is preparing to complete its Tiangang space station to compete with the ISS by the end of this year, which will reduce the world’s reliance on the latter for space exploration and projects. Russia may soon have the option of joining China’s efforts if it decides to grant bail to the ISS.

Also, Roscomos chief Dmitry Rogzin’s series of tweets highlighting Western sanctions in recent months has in no way eased tensions. Although ISS remains in orbit, for now, the stability of international cooperation in space may change in the near future.

Cyber ​​attack on satellite

On May 10, the UK’s National Cyber ​​Security Center (NCSC) and the EU and US announced that Russian military intelligence was behind the cyber attack on Viasat, Ukraine’s satellite-based global communications provider. The attack took place on February 24, 2022, about an hour before Russia invaded Ukraine.

The UK-based state-run cybersecurity agency said the Ukrainian military was the primary target, but it also affected other Viasat clients connected to the satellite KA-SAT network, including commercial and Internet users.

The attack was not resolved as thousands of terminals were damaged and out of order. The attack had far-reaching consequences as wind farms across Central Europe were affected.

“This is clear evidence of Russia’s deliberate and hateful attack on Ukraine that has had a significant impact on ordinary people and businesses in Ukraine and across Europe,” said Liz Truss, the UK’s foreign secretary.

Such cyber-attacks targeting satellite infrastructure could obviously be dangerous as they could spread widely and cause security compromises across Europe.

Conversations about ASAT missiles

Although Russia was able to conduct ASAT (anti-satellite weapons) missions in the 1960s, the United States was soon able to do the same. China entered the anti-satellite field in 2007 during a successful ASAT test to destroy an old weather satellite. India followed suit in 2019 with a mission force.

As more countries gain access to satellite data and use it for commercial as well as military applications, satellites will become an essential resource worldwide. But as the importance of satellites increases in the context of military domination, more countries, such as North Korea and Iran, will begin to compete for the ASAT system to defend themselves.

But ASAT weapons bring with them the problem of space debris, which U.S. national security officials have repeatedly identified as very problematic. The problem came to the fore recently as 2021 when Russia shot down one of its satellites. The ASAT test created more than 1,500 trackable space debris. Although the ISS is clear from the wreckage, the situation is still dangerous because any wreckage carries with it the risk of hitting active satellites that power important technologies.

As of January 1, 2022, there were 2,944 of the 4,852 satellites orbiting the Earth in the United States. The United States has the largest number of satellites in a single country by a large margin (China had only 499). This huge number has contributed significantly to the dominance of the United States in space-related technology over the years. This means that any space debris in low orbit directly challenges the country’s presence at the final border and makes its US National Security Panel experts jump. Therefore, the United States has always opposed conducting ASAT tests.

Recently, the United States became the first country to adopt a voluntary moratorium on the destructive testing of direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missile systems. In a cautious suspension order, the United States, though never mentioned that it was predicting the development of DA-ASAT weapons.

The spotlight is now on China and Russia, who have refused to recognize DA-ASAT as a space weapon. Washington was the first to draw blood to discuss how DA-ASATs should be considered in the face of the future dark clouds of international space cooperation.

[The author is Space and Defence Analyst & Director ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd (an Indo-German Company). Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.]

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