Mysterious Russian space weapon raises alarm in Washington

According to the Economist, Washington was abuzz with news of a mysterious Russian space weapon that has raised concerns about the potential threat it poses to American and allied satellites.

Although, there is contradictory information about nuclear space weapons, three options are possible:
– a ground-based “pop-up” nuclear weapon launched when needed to destroy satellites,
– a nuclear weapon stationed in orbit, or
– a nuclear-powered satellite designed for another purpose.

Deploying a nuclear weapon in full orbit would violate the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, of which Russia is a signatory.

The use of nuclear weapons could have consequences for 8,300 active satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) and geo-positioning systems that are used both for military and civilian purposes. It is difficult to neutralise thousands of satellites in constellations, such as SpaceX’s Starlink. However, they could be neutralised through wide-area electronic attacks initiated by new types of weapons in space.

Space interdependence could have limitations for the use of powerful weapons in outer space. Namely, all major countries, including the USA, China, and Russia, have satellites orbiting the earth, including the Russian-driven International Space Station and Tiangong, the Chinese space station.