Russia creates antisatellite defense


The leading world powers - the United States, China and Russia are working to create satellite defense. In 2006, Washington adopted a new large-scale arms program. A year later Beijing demonstrated its capabilities and downed a satellite by a missile. Practically nothing is known about the Russian program to counter space threats. There were media reports about Nudol, "item 07" and Contact missiles, as well as inspector satellites. The Izvestia daily writes which antisatellite weapons are being developed.


Russia creates antisatellite defense
Computer-generated image of the Russian A-235 Nudol antisatellite missile and launcher (Image source: Plymouth University)


In the early 2010s, it became known that Russia was designing Nudol missile and space defense complex with the 14A042 missile. The name comes from a small river in Klin district of Moscow region. Almaz-Antey is the lead designer. Nudol is likely to join Amur A-235 system which protects Moscow from intercontinental missiles. Nudol-Amur link is necessary to repel a nuclear strike at the capital city and the central industrial region of the country. However, the capabilities of the new system are likely to be bigger.

Foreign media reported that trials are ongoing not at the 10th state range of the Russian Defense Ministry in Sary-Shagan which tests air defense weapons, but in Plesetsk. The spaceport engages in Russian space programs which are closely linked to military and scientific launches. It makes one believe that Nudol can fight both intercontinental missiles and satellites, as well as manned spacecraft. The very name of the system supports the supposition, as it has "space defense" definition and unit indices with figure 14 which relates them to space means.

Little is known about the 14A042 missile. It is most likely a two-stage antimissile which can carry conventional and nuclear warheads. The likely weight of the missile can be guessed. In April 2015, there was an accident with an experimental rocket in Plesetsk. The Russian media said the crashed product weighed 9.6 tons. Official representatives of Almaz-Antey later said an upgraded Antey-2500 missile (export option S-300VM) was launched from Plesetsk. However, it weighs close to 4 tons and its experimental option could hardly double the weight. It makes it likely that Nudol missile crashed in the spaceport. It is unclear whether the prospective system would be mobile or silo-based. Four years ago the corporate calendar of Almaz-Antey carried an image of the previously unknown self-propelled launcher on MZKT-79291 prime mover with two unusually long transporter-launcher containers. It is likely to be the mobile option of the 14A042 missile for Nudol.

In December 2018, US media quoted intelligence sources and reported the sixth successful launch of Nudol missile in Plesetsk. It was fired by a mobile launcher. However, neither the calendar image nor the media reports on the launches provide guarantees that the launcher would be mobile. The 14A042 missile is close in weight and size to the US GBI antimissile which needs silos for the launch.

In the late 1980s, MiG Design Bureau upgraded three MiG-31D fighter jets which were reported as "item 07". The technical assignment called to adjust the aircraft to launch antisatellite Contact 30P6 air system. MiG-31 has to operate as the first stage delivering and launching Contact 79M6 antisatellite missile from the upper layers of the atmosphere. The missile is rather big and has to be carried under the fuselage. The length is close to ten meters. The missile likely has a kinetic warhead of 160 kg and comprises two or three stages.

The leading world powers - the United States, China and Russia are working to create satellite defense. In 2006, Washington adopted a new large-scale arms program. A year later Beijing demonstrated its capabilities and downed a satellite by a missile. Practically nothing is known about the Russian program to counter space threats. There were media reports about Nudol, "item 07" and Contact missiles, as well as inspector satellites. The Izvestia daily writes which antisatellite weapons are being developed.

In the 1990s, Contact development was stopped. The upgraded MiG-31 were to be used to orbit small satellites. However, the situation changed in the 2000s. In 2009, Air Force Commander-in-Chief Colonel-General Alexander Zelin said a MiG-31 option would be created for space defense. Six years ago, the first sporadic reports appeared about the trials of the new system.

In the autumn of 2018, the Combat Aircraft Monthly magazine published MiG-31 photos with a rather big missile under the fuselage. The photos were shot in the test center in Zhukovsky near Moscow. The magazine said it was a new Russian antisatellite missile. Nothing is known about the missile. It likely operates similar to unit 07. It has two or three stages and a kinetic warhead. It finds a satellite by thermal emission.

The Krona 45Zh6 optical radar is an important component of the anti-satellite Contact 30P6 system. It can detect and identify satellites and guide MiG at them. It comprises several stations scattered across Russia. Each of them comprises a radar and a laser which specifies the distance and movement direction of the target. Krona radars were upgraded in 2009-2018.

In 2017, Russia successfully tested maneuvering military inspector satellite capable of approaching and inspecting spacecraft. The maneuvering satellite undocked from the Cosmos-2519 space platform on June 23, 2017, and accomplished an autonomous flight. It first changed the orbit and then returned to the platform to inspect it. The experiment also tested ground and orbital communications and ballistic calculation methods, as well as new software. Such spacecraft determine the functions of foreign spy satellites. It is important that the space inspector can be transformed into a fighter satellite.

The idea to create fighter satellites appeared during the Cold War between the USA and the USSR. The Soviet Union had a satellite terminator program to fight an orbital grouping of the potential adversary. Designers had to develop spacecraft capable of destroying US early warning satellites in case of a threat. However, the project was not implemented due to the high cost of space fighters. New technologies and the element base make such spacecraft several times cheaper which is an encouragement for the space industry.

Several countries are currently designing space defense. The United States and China have their own inspector satellites. The most known is the US X-37 scout. Airborne antisatellite systems are also designed. In particular, US media like to compare the Russian Contact with the US ASM-135A missile carried by F-15A. It is known that the United States is developing a new laser-based weapon. China is also developing the technologies, the Izvestia said.


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