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Catch Me If You Can: The Challenges of Orbital Rendezvous and Proximity Operations

Alexandra Stickings
RUSI Defence Systems, 31 March 2020
Aerospace, Military Sciences, Martial Power Programme
Rendezvous and Proximity Operations in space add a layer of complexity to an already confused conversation concerning weapons in orbit. Consensus regarding their use and potential threat is needed to prevent miscalculations and unwanted escalation of tensions

In February 2020, the US military brought to attention the activities of two Russian satellites which appeared to be shadowing a US spy satellite. Calling such action ‘threatening’ and ‘destabilising’, General Jay Raymond, head of US Space Command, accused Russia of intentionally spying on the US. This statement led to much discussion in the media about Russian aggression in space and the threat this poses to US space assets.

Debates about the militarisation or weaponisation of space have increased in recent years, particularly since the 2007 test by China of a kinetic anti-satellite (ASAT) missile, and have escalated with the establishment of the US Space Force and re-establishment of US Space Command. Similarly, the proliferation of non-kinetic counterspace capabilities, including those that target ground stations and up- and down-links as well as the satellites themselves, and the willingness of states to act in the ‘grey zone’, has added to the narrative promoted by the US that space is now a warfighting domain. The recent Russian activity further supports this narrative in the eyes of the US.

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Author

Alexandra Stickings
Research Fellow, Space Policy and Security
Alexandra Stickings is Research Fellow for Space Policy and Security within the Military Sciences team at RUSI.... read more

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