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U.S. experts critical of Russian officer's suspicion over satellite crash
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13:55, March 05, 2009

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A former Russian senior officer's suspicion that the collision between a U.S. Iridium satellite and a Russian defunct satellite last month was manipulated by the U.S. is groundless, said Liz DeCastro, spokeswoman of the Maryland-based Iridium Satellite LLC, Wednesday.

"Iridium's satellite was operational and orbiting in its correct path, and in the wake of the collision, we have learned that the Russian satellite was derelict. Iridium had no advance warning of the collision", said DeCastro in an interview with Xinhua.

DeCastro said that the event was obviously unfortunate and it pointed to "the much larger need for international cooperation to ensure that all parties and countries with valuable assets in space have the means and resources to work together to protect those assets including means to predict close encounters with actionable accuracy."

"As to the statements made by the Russian military, there is no basis in fact to these allegations and we invite the Russian officials to contact directly the U.S. government," said the spokeswoman.

Former Russian major general Leonid Shershner on Tuesday told the daily Moskovski Komsomolez that the collision could have been deliberately caused by the U.S., which might be testing a new technology aiming to intercept and destroy satellites from rival countries. He also linked the crash with the Orbital Express project of the U.S.

Regarding the suspicion, Joan Johnson-freese, U.S. space expert and chairwoman of the National Security Decision Making Department at the Naval War College, told Xinhua that though the U.S. and some other countries are indeed conducting research and "in some cases testing of satellite technology to allow monitoring and inspection of orbital spacecraft," drawing any connection between it and the collision is "spurious at best."

"It is more likely simply deflecting attention to the U.S. and away from Russia," Johnson-freese said, adding that perhaps Russia is concerned about its legal liability.

U.S. defense expert John Pike, also director of GlobalSecurity.org, said the Russian officer or the report may have mixed two irrelevant things up.

"The U.S. satellite in the February collision was an Iridium communication satellite that has both military and commercial customers, though it has nothing to do with space weapons," Pike said.

According to Pike, Orbital Express, a satellite inspection system, does have some connection with anti-satellite weapons in that it could be used to inspect a foreign satellite from close range to help decide what type of mission the satellite could perform and whether it needed to be destroyed.

"One of the very first American anti-satellite weapons was called SAINT (Satellite Interceptor), which had both inspection and interception capabilities. But this system was never tested," Pike added.

The collision, which occurred on Feb. 10 some 800 km above Siberia, involved the 560-kg Iridium 33 commercial satellite launched in 1997 by the U.S., and the 900-kg Russia's Cosmos 2251 military satellite launched in 1993, and is the very first orbital satellite collision in the history of mankind.


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