SWF Releases New Fact Sheets on Robotic RPOs for Military and Intelligence Purposes by Multiple Countries

BROOMFIELD, Colo. (SWF PR) — Rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) technologies enable a wide range of capabilities to support civil and commercial space activities such as on-orbit inspections, repair, refueling, assembly, and life extension. RPO capabilities can also be used for military and intelligence space activities such as intelligence, surveillance, and offensive weapons such as co-orbital anti-satellites.

While RPO technologies have long been a stable of human spaceflight activities, over the last twenty years robotic RPO capabilities have developed and grown in use, including for national security. While many RPO activities are no directly aggressive or destructive themselves, they can lead to misconceptions or heightened tensions that could negatively impact space security and stability. 

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A Summary of Russia’s Counterspace Capabilities

In 2009, the defunct Cosmos 2251 satellite and the Iridium 33 satellite collided in Earth’s orbit. A Livermore visualization shows the orbits of the two satellites prior to the collision among the thousands of other satellites in low-Earth orbit. The collision occurred where the two orbital paths cross near the North Pole. (Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

Global Counterspace Capabilities:
An Open Source Assessment

Secure World Foundation
April 2020

Full Report

The following excerpt from the report summarizes Russia’s counterspace capabilities.

There is strong evidence that Russia has embarked on a set of programs over the last decade to regain many of its Cold War-era counterspace capabilities. Since 2010, Russia has been testing technologies for rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) in both low Earth orbit 9LEO) and geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) that could lead to or support a co-orbital anti-satellite (ASAT) capability. Evidence suggests at least two active programs: a new co-orbital ASAT program called Burevestnik that is potentially supported by a surveillance and tracking program called Nivelir.

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