Kessler blackmail? Russia threatens to shoot down satellites used by Ukraine

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US and other Western commercial satellites will be considered “legitimate targets” if they are used to aid the Ukrainian war effort, the Russian representative to UN warned, in the latest threats made by Russia over support for Ukraine. 

“Quasi-civilian infrastructure may be a legitimate target for a retaliatory strike,” Konstantin Vorontsov, deputy director of the Russian foreign ministry’s department for non-proliferation and arms control, said on October 27, 2022, in a meeting of the UN General Assembly’s First Committee, according to Russian state news agency TASS. 

Vorontsov said “space civil infrastructure facilities” are being used by the United States and its allies in the course of “developments in Ukraine,” which, according to him, jeopardizes the stability of civil space activities. 

Eyes and ears in space 

Even though Ukraine does not possess military satellites, its use of commercial satellite imaging and communications services in the defense from Russia’s invasion is well-documented.  

Immediately following the start of the full-scale invasion in February 2022, Elon Musk’s Starlink started providing satellite internet services in Ukraine, with Starlink becoming the primary communication asset in Ukrainian armed forces. 

Their reliance on Starlink turned into a major problem in October 2022, when outages of the service were reported, at the same time as Musk demanded additional payment for the services from the US government. 

In August, a Ukrainian charity crowdfunded the purchase of a satellite belonging to Finnish imaging company ICEYE, as well as full access to images collected by the company’s other satellites. 

The fact that the Ukrainian military regularly uses other satellite imaging services, such as Maxar, has also been reported. 

Russia has also reportedly requisitioned other country’s satellites, such as Iran’s Khayyam satellite, which was launched by Roscosmos in August, but reportedly used for the Russian war effort instead of being transferred to Iran. 

Space warfare and space apocalypse 

Many countries – including the US, Russia, China and India – have at one point or another tested anti-satellite technology, demonstrating their ability to shoot down objects in Low Earth Orbit. 

In many cases, such tests resulted in a dramatic increase of orbital debris, because stricken satellites tend to disintegrate, but stay in their orbits, thus threatening collisions with other satellites. 

According to numerous researchers, such a development could quickly turn tragic, because the destruction of one satellite may cause a cascading effect: debris would impact other satellites, creating more debris. 

Called the Kessler Syndrome, such a snowball effect would likely lead to a complete wipe-out of all orbital infrastructure, which would result in a cloud of fast-moving fragments enveloping Earth, preventing any kind of space exploration for decades or centuries.  

According to researchers, there have been several events that have come dangerously close to causing the Kessler Syndrome, however, so far it has been avoided.  


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