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Satellites did not collide but were destroyed: ex-Russian General news
07 March 2009

The former head of Russia's military space intelligence has claimed that the collision of the US and Russian satellites that took place on 10 February 2009 about 500 miles above Siberia was not an accident but was a deliberate destruction planned by US scientists to test new technology for intercepting and destroying satellites. (See: Space crash destroys Iridium-owned satellite)

Major general Leonid Shershnev, the former head of Russia's military space intelligence, said this week that the US Iridium 33 satellite involved in the collision with the non-operational Russian Cosmos-2251 satellite, was part of a US military 'dual-purpose Orbital Express research project, launched in 2007.

Speaking to the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper, Shershnev said that the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was in charge of the space mission of Orbital Express research project and was assisted by engineers from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC).

He said that the aim of the project was to look at the technical feasibility of robotic, autonomous on-orbit refuelling and reconfiguration of satellites, which in future would take care of the US national security and commercial space programs.

The project also aimed at allowing the US to intercept as well as manipulate hostile satellites and destroy them from a ground control command center.

Although the project was officially completed in July 2007, Shershnev said that the US continued working on the project to develop advanced technology, where orbital spacecrafts could be monitored and inspected by fully-automated satellites equipped with robotic devices.

Ggeneral Shershnev goes on to say that the collision that took place last month could possibly indicate that the US had succeeded in developing such a capability, where it could manipulate hostile satellites that could be destroyed from a command centre on Earth.

Space analysts say that this is highly possible, although both the satellites were in the same near-Earth orbit at approximately 550 miles, it is highly unlikely that they could have collide as it would be like comparing two grains of sand meeting in a football stadium.

Moreover, they say that these satellites are kept in observation and tracked by many ground-based stations, where even a very tiny object as small as 5cm is observed and less than 10 per cent of the 18,000 objects monitored in low- and high-Earth orbits are working satellites, while the rest are defunct satellites, spent rocket stages and space debris (See: The great junkyard in outer space).

They add that it is likely that the collision was a military test to find out whether a robotic satellite is capable of destroying an enemy satellite.

In February 2008, the US launched a missile from a naval vessel that destroyed one of its own crippled spy satellites while China had done it in 2007, when it destroyed one of its own defunct satellites with a ballistic missile.

Yesterday Russia announced that it was working on developing anti-satellite weapons to match those of the US and China although it said that it is opposed to the arms race but was forced to respond to the moves made by other countries.

General Valentin Popovkin told local newspapers that his country cannot sit back and quietly watch others doing it and said that since Russia has the key element and basic knowledge on such work.

Russia had mooted a proposal, which was backed by China for banning all space weapons, but the US had rejected it.

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Satellites did not collide but were destroyed: ex-Russian General