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Russian satellites trailing US spy satellite in orbit | JD Supra

[author: Wayne White]

In a recent statement, General John “Jay” Raymond, the commander of the new US space force, said that since last year two Russian satellites have exhibited “unusual and disturbing behavior” while tracking a multi-billion dollar US spy satellite in orbit. Launched in November last year, Kosmos 2542, an inspection satellite, launched a second, smaller spacecraft. The two Russian spacecraft orbit in the same aircraft as a satellite operated by the National Reconnaissance Office called USA 245, which has been in space since 2013. The two Russian spacecraft performed a series of maneuvers to get closer to USA 245, with a probable goal of inspecting the spy satellite.

Most Americans do not realize that Russian rapprochements with American satellites have been going on for decades. This author recalls the first reading of a close approach by a Russian spacecraft in Time Magazine in 1972. In this case, the Russian spacecraft actually hit the American satellite. This proved that the Russian spacecraft was potentially capable of destroying the American satellite (if, for example, the Russian spacecraft contained an explosive device that could be detonated from Earth). Pentagon officials have also expressed concern about foreign spacecraft deliberately crashing into US satellites, spraying them with chemicals or shooting them with lasers in order to destroy them.

The fear is that Russia or China could obtain information about secret US satellite technologies and/or attack US satellites to gain advantages in a ground war. Wargame exercises conducted by the United States and its allies have repeatedly demonstrated that the removal of the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS) and military communications satellites would have a devastating effect on military combat operations, rendering vehicles unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) unable to navigate and coming to a halt. the military’s ability to communicate with deployed combat troops.

Does Russia have the legal right to get close to US satellites and, in some cases, get its spacecraft close enough to hit a US satellite? The law on this point is not clear. None of the space treaties to which the United States and Russia are parties prohibit close approaches. Article III of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, however, states that “States parties to the Treaty shall engage in the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, in accordance with international law, including the Charter of the United Nations. . . .”

General principles of international law (which apply to all nations) include a principle of non-interference. This principle states that nations should not interfere in matters that fall within the jurisdiction of another nation. Article 2 of the Charter of the United Nations sets out a similar principle for the United Nations: “Nothing in this Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the national jurisdiction of any [nation] . . . .”

Interfering with the operation of a US satellite would violate the principle of non-interference, but does observing and touching a satellite without damaging it constitute interference? Probably not. Thus, from a legal perspective, the current legislation does not address US concerns about sighting and possible damage to critical national security, navigation and communications satellites.

The author of this blog post is currently drafting US legislation called the “Space Pioneer Act”. This legislation will include family property, mining rights and salvage rights. It also enshrines the concept of a safety zone in law. Safety Zones are areas around space objects in which the United States will exercise limited jurisdiction for the purposes of directing navigation and ensuring the safety of the space object and any crew member or human or robotic inhabitant . American and Russian space lawyers have written academic papers in support of this concept, and the author is not aware of any published professional papers that oppose the concept. The Russians call it a “forbidden zone”, but the concept is the same.

The Space Pioneer Act defines safety zones. It also states that entering the safety zone of a US space object without authorization and in the absence of an emergency is a violation of US sovereignty. The exact size of US safe zones will be specified in the implementing regulations and will vary depending on the type of activities conducted in the space object, the number of human and/or robotic crew members, passengers or inhabitants, and the amount of transport traffic. space object activities will generate. The legislation further states that U.S. entities must not enter the safe areas of any spacecraft or satellite of any nationality without authorization from the space object operator. These laws will ensure that U.S. astronauts follow international law and address U.S. concerns about observing national security space assets and potential attacks on U.S. satellites.

Author Wayne White is currently working with a congressional staffer as he continues to draft the Space Pioneer Act. Mr. White predicts the law will pass with bipartisan support.

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