Is Cosmos 2553 A Test-bed For Russia’s Nuclear Anti-satellite Programme

17th May 2024
Is Cosmos 2553 A Test-bed For Russia’s Nuclear Anti-satellite Programme

On 5th February 2022, Russia launched a satellite dubbed Cosmos 2553 into an unusual orbit. According to the Wall Street Journal, the satellite was launched into an unusual orbit just beyond that of Low Orbiting Satellites. The WSJ states that American officials have determined that Cosmos 2553 was a testbed for Russia’s nuclear anti-satellite programme – albeit, as far as they can tell, without nuclear material on board.

Cosmos 2553 and the 1240-mile question

The WSJ quotes TASS as publishing at the time that the satellite was “equipped with newly developed onboard instruments and systems for testing them under conditions of exposure to radiation and heavy charged particles.” However, the orbit, at 1240 miles high, is unusual, but not unusual enough to gain information about such exposure. The orbit, on the line between LEO and Middle Earth Orbit, is above the bulk of satellites, such as those of Starlink, and below GNSS satellites such as GPS.

The actual purpose of Cosmos 2553 is not known to the public, and U.S. officials are tight-lipped about it. However, they are pointing to it as a development in the Russian anti-satellite programme.

What is known is that 13th February, U.S. Congressman Mike Turner informed his colleagues in the House of Representatives that his committee chose to release information to them concerning “an urgent matter with regard to a destabilizing foreign military capability that should be known by all Congressional Policy Makers”, The Hill reports. On 14th February, Turner called for the declassification of information regarding the threat to the American people.

On 24th April, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council bill calling specifically for not placing nuclear bombs in space. The bill was seen by its proponents as an extension of the 1967 international treaty on space signed by the Soviet Union. However, Russia claimed that it didn’t go far enough, and that the bill should have called for removing all weapons. 

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