A Threat to Starlink? US Confirms Russia Developing Anti-Satellite System

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The White House has confirmed that Russia is developing an anti-satellite weapon after news of the technology raised alarm bells among Congressional leaders. 

“While I’m limited by how much I can share about the specific nature of the threat, I can confirm that it is related to an anti-satellite capability that Russia is developing,” White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby said on Thursday. 

But based on Kirby’s statements, it sounds like the anti-satellite weapon is still in the works. “First, this is not an active capability that has been deployed,” he said. “And though Russia’s pursuit of this particular capability is troubling, there is no immediate threat to anyone’s safety.

“We are not talking about a weapon that can be used to attack human beings or cause physical destruction here on Earth,” he added. 

Still, the anti-satellite capability could pose a threat to Starlink, the space-based internet system from SpaceX. The Kremlin has repeatedly made threats about destroying Starlink for supplying high-speed internet to Ukraine, a country that’s fighting an ongoing war with Russia. 

In 2021, Russia also conducted its own anti-satellite weapons test by launching a missile to destroy a decommissioned satellite still in Earth’s orbit. The resulting impact caused the satellite to blow apart, creating a temporary debris field that some Starlink satellites had to maneuver around

It remains unclear if Russia has developed a new technique to disable such satellites. But The New York Times reports that the anti-satellite capability is a “space-based nuclear weapon.” Meanwhile, PBS NewsHour says Russia’s anti-satellite system may be merely “nuclear-powered,” but still built with an “electronic warfare capability” to take down satellites. 

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For now, the White House says it’s “been closely monitoring” Russia’s development of the weapon. The Biden administration also plans on briefing Congressional leaders and US allies, while also engaging in “direct diplomatic engagement with Russia,” Kirby said. But the White House is refraining from releasing more information until then.  

“We make decisions about how and when to publicly disclose intelligence in a careful, deliberate and strategic way. In a way that we choose,” Kirby added. Initially, news of the anti-satellite capability originated from US Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), who mentioned a national security threat on Twitter.  

In the meantime, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk seems to be skeptical about the Kremlin’s development of an anti-satellite weapon. “Russia is tragically weak in space for a once proud space superpower,” he tweeted.

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