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The head of the Russian Federation's delegation to the Open Ended Working Group formed at the United Nations for reducing space threats, Mr. K.V.Vorontsov, has implied in a fresh working paper (unofficial translation) that space technology systems developed and in use by Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) and Maxar Technologies might become a target of "military retaliation" due to their involvement in the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. While Mr. Vorontsov did not explicitly mention the two companies, the submission made by the Russian delegation cautioned the working group that the use of civilian space infrastructure to aid parties in war represents indirect involvement that might result in dangerous consequences.
Starlink, Maxar Satellites Might Be Targeted By Russian Military Warns Diplomat
The Ukraine invasion, which started in February is yet to end, even as economic life is disrupted globally and inflation wreaks havoc on populations in developing and developed nations alike. However, unlike other wars, this time around, space infrastructure played a crucial role as imaging and internet satellites have provided the Ukrainian military and under siege populations with an upper hand, since they are able to utilize infrastructure that is far out of the Russian military's reach to gain intelligence about troop movements and communicate with each other.
SpaceX was quick to ship Starlink terminals to Ukraine as its rival Viasat's network was disrupted during the early stages of the invasion, and Maxar has been diligently taking images of Russian artillery movement and damaged buildings throughout the course of the war. This has allowed the world to gain stock of the destruction in Ukraine, and it should also have helped the Ukrainian military plan its strategies.
However, this help has naturally caught Russia's attention as well, and its delegation to the space safety working group, as suggested in the new paper, an unofficial translation of which is available on the U.N's website.
The paper calls the "provocative use of civilian satellites" "questionable", and warns the working group that the infrastructure might be subject to military retaliation. In it, Mr. Vorontsov states that:
Namely, the use by the United States and its allies of the elements of civilian, including commercial, infrastructure in outer space for military purposes. It seems like our colleagues do not realize that such actions in fact constitute indirect involvement in military conflicts. Quasi-civilian infrastructure may become a legitimate target for retaliation.
Russia is currently testing the A-235 anti-satellite anti-ballistic missile system, which successfully destroyed a satellite as part of a test in 2017 which caused SpaceX to maneuver its Starlink satellites 1,700 times to avoid the resulting debris. The A-235 is also designed to destroy incoming missiles threatening Moscow and other sensitive sites, and the satellite it destroyed was in a 487 x 461 kilometer orbit according to a private space data analysis company. SpaceX's Starlink satellites currently orbit in higher orbits starting from 530 kilometers, but the company plans to place future satellites in orbits as low as 340 kilometers.
Soon after the invasion, SpaceX delivered its Starlink terminals to Ukraine and the company ended up receiving flak from the former head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos for these actions. In an interview given to the Russian state-backed news outlet Russia Today, Dimitry Rogozin, the former Russian space chief, accused SpaceX chief Mr. Elon Musk of helping Ukraine resist the Russian implementation of its "highest national interests" on Ukraine by allowing Ukrainians to communicate with each other through Starlink as other communications services were disrupted. Musk took the matter in good stride, and even joked that perhaps the communications outage was due to "bad weather".
Later on, perhaps wary of retaliation from the Russian military, Musk even shared tips for Ukrainians on how to prevent their user dishes from being targeted by Russian missile strikes. In a tweet, the executive outlined that:
Important warning: Starlink is the only non-Russian communications system still working in some parts of Ukraine, so probability of being targeted is high. Please use with caution.
He further cautioned users to only turn on the dish when they needed to use the internet service and potentially camouflage the dishes by applying a non-metallic spray.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has received far-spread condemnation globally and has seen the U.S. target the Russian military-industrial complex with strict sanctions as it aims to sap the Russian military of its strength and end the conflict that has caused painful losses of life and disrupted whimpering global economies.