At 36,000 kilometers from Earth, by October 20, 2017, in the silence of space, a Russian satellite called Luch u Olymp-K slowly approached the Franco-Italian military satellite Athena-Fidus, an "act of espionage" denounced by France a year later.
What few know is that, a few days before, the same Russian satellite had been watched by a US military satellite GSSAP, located just 10 km away.
Since 2010, the Chinese have also proven to be able to pilot satellites to bring them closer to a target. These discreet maneuvers are the most concrete expression of the militarization of space, according to US experts.
The US, Russia and China have the ability to destroy enemy satellites with missiles and, probably, with voluntary collisions. Perhaps they are designing even lasers to blind or damage satellites. But there has never been an attack of this kind in six decades of space history. The true war of the galaxies is cybernetic.
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"The immediate threat is not a collision," says Brian Weeden, co-author of a report by the Secure World Foundation that describes those suspicious maneuvers by satellites. "The objective is information and surveillance. These approximations are probably used to photograph satellites in order to understand what they are doing or identify what type of signals they receive. "
– Interferences – You only have to look at the number of US military uniforms and allies this week at the 35 Space Symposium, the great meeting of the space industry in Colorado Springs, to realize the interest of the armies for space. When Marty Whelan began working in the military space sector in 1984, "the most difficult thing was putting things in orbit. Once up, it was quite safe, "he explains.
The 1991 Gulf War was the first in which the US actually used space tools, especially GPS for navigation and bombing.
The first weaknesses appeared in the war in Iraq in the 2000s. The Iranians began trying to interfere with US satellite signals, according to Whelan.
And in recent years, Russia has repeatedly altered GPS signals around the Baltic Sea and elsewhere, forcing Americans to look for systems to avoid such interference.
"If we blow up metal in space, nobody will die, no mother will lose her son," says Whelan, who spent 33 years in the Air Force and is the current vice president of The Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded research organization. . "But if a son or daughter can not communicate on the battlefield, then a mother can lose them," he explained.
"Space is an essential link in combat on Earth," says the retired general. "We can not do as before, everything must change," he remarks.
– Monitor the satellites – The entire space, civil and military sector has begun to adapt to protect against interference and cyber attacks. "We would lack clairvoyance if we were convinced that in 2019 we know how to fight against all threats. There are always new ones, "says Mark Knapp, of the Norwegian company KSAT, which manages more than 200 satellite communication antennas in the world.
In the military sphere, the Pentagon is reorganizing to create the space force desired by President Donald Trump, an initiative that Congress must still approve. That force will be added to the other US weapons and will have more than 20,000 military personnel. Space surveillance will be one of your priorities.
Fred Kennedy, the head of the new space development agency, presented on Tuesday in Colorado Springs, his constellation project of hundreds of small military satellites, built with the help of the private sector, to monitor in real time the tens of thousands of objects that orbit around the Earth.
The objective is to monitor everything that is between our planet and the Moon.