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HomeGeneralUS Prepares for Space War Amid Deepening Tensions With Russia

US Prepares for Space War Amid Deepening Tensions With Russia

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Stakes don’t get much higher than when you are at war. And things get more serious when that war is in space. When Russia took down a satellite with a missile in 2021 to demonstrate its capabilities, 1,783 pieces of debris were left flying around Earth at more than 17,500 miles per hour, each capable of damaging or destroying a spacecraft. 

The consequences of conflict in space would be worse. According to Captain Even Rogers, stability in orbit “has potential existential consequences to humanity. If we don’t defend the domain sustainably, you end up with cascading generational effects that can lock us down on the planet.” 

He hints at a worst-case scenario where destroyed spacecraft create a storm of junk that makes leaving Earth’s atmosphere impossible. Those concerns were magnified recently when intelligence reports escaping out of Washington described Russian advances in space-based nuclear weapons. 

Such a weapon could threaten America’s extensive military and civilian satellite network. Nuclear weapons have no place in space. This is thanks to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which the US and Russia are a party.

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There are no signs a weapon has been deployed. But it does raise questions about whether Russia might be preparing to abandon the treaty. Regardless of the answer to that, at the moment, the US has no real way to counter such a threat.

The fears about US readiness for orbital conflict led to the creation of the Space Force during Trump’s administration. The reorganization of the space-focused units into a new service has helped to channel more focus toward dealing with war in space.

After leaving the military in 2022, Rogers co-founded True Anomaly. It is a venture-backed startup that helps the Space Force figure out how to prepare for a space war. He hopes to build platforms and training systems “designed for operators, by operators.” And he has won more than $20 million in contracts from the Pentagon to do so.

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During his Air Force career, Rogers was famous for his novel ideas about how military spacecraft should operate. He called the term “orbital engagement maneuvers.” It involves swarms of autonomous orbital weapons platforms coordinated and directed by AI-assisted service members.

Still, at this time, the world’s militaries are far from making such things, as the technology for this kind of warfare is tricky. The physics of space travel means that propellant for rocket engines is a precious resource.

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Satellites can only carry the bare minimum of fuel to maximize the amount of useful payload. And each kilogram of additional fuel mass on any spacecraft would equal tens of thousands of dollars in additional cost. 

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That’s why most of the birds that the Space Force is flying now can’t do much in response to a potential attack. And that’s why True Anomaly is trying to make hardware for the Space Force to deploy. 

Countries like China and Russia have advanced their space vehicles, making them seem like threats to the US’s less developed machines. That’s why the first major piece of hardware on Roger’s company’s agenda is the Jackal Autonomous Orbital Vehicle.

The vehicle is a low-cost imaging satellite intended for “uncooperative proximity operations” — flying close to other spacecraft that may not expect or want them around. It’s not yet clear whether the Space Force will buy it, but True Anomaly is building it. The first two prototypes will launch in March aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

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Rogers says such a vehicle would be useful for many purposes. It would greatly increase space situational awareness, allowing the US to perform its own satellite inspections and understand enemy capabilities. 

The vehicle could also be the best choice for an on-orbit training range, where Space Force Guardians operate actual spacecraft. It could even be a platform for weapons in space, which would mean the US is a step closer to getting ready for a war that has never been fought.

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