Putin’s Mystery ‘Cosmos-2553’ Satellite- A Nuclear Doomsday Weapon for Space?

Russia allegedly developing nuclear-powered anti-satellite weapons for destroying satellite constellations like Starlink, prompting concerns over potential space warfare.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

Russia launched a satellite, “Cosmos-2553,” into Earth’s orbit on February 5, 2022, 19 days before the ‘Limited War in Ukraine’. The United States says Russia is using it as a covert platform for testing components of new space weapons. These weapons are intended to destroy mega-satellite constellations, particularly the Starlink constellation, which the Ukrainian Armed Forces are now using. 

As per the U.S. officials, Russia intends to use nuclear weapons in space. The electromagnetic pulse generated by its explosion would destroy most devices in low Earth orbit. Additionally, it would create an artificial radiation belt around the Earth, disabling most satellites that survived the initial blast.

There is no nuclear weapon on board “Cosmos-2553.” However, according to U.S. intelligence, it carries several components of the future weapons system. Reports indicate that the satellite is in an “unusual” orbit that is not used by other spacecraft and is still operational.

As per the Russians, the technological spacecraft “Cosmos-2553” is equipped with newly developed onboard instruments and systems for testing under conditions of radiation exposure and heavy charged particles.

Nuclear Weapons in Space?

In November 2021, Russia was accused of endangering the International Space Station (ISS) by conducting a direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test. The test destroyed Cosmos-1408, an electronic intelligence satellite orbiting at about 485 km since 1982.

The U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, at the time, said Russia is “willing to jeopardize the exploration and use of outer space by all nations through its reckless and irresponsible behavior.” This concern was because the Russian test created about 1,500 pieces of debris that, spread between 200 and 1,000 km in altitude, were likely to endanger other satellites.

Since then, the question has been whether Moscow intends to go further. In February, after Michael Turner, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, mentioned “information about a serious national security threat” without giving further details, American officials, speaking anonymously, reported that Russia was developing a nuclear space weapon system capable of disabling or even destroying satellites, which is prohibited by the Outer Space Treaty (Article 4) that came into effect in October 1967.

Two days later, the White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby stated it was not an “immediate threat,” although the details about this Russian anti-satellite weapon were “concerning.” He added, “We are not talking about a weapon that can be used to attack human beings or cause destruction on Earth.”

As expected, Moscow dismissed the U.S. claims” as “malicious,” viewing it as a maneuver by the American administration to convince Congress to approve the promised $61 billion military aid to Ukraine.

Some space experts also expressed skepticism as the effects of a nuclear explosion are even more unpredictable, affecting all nearby satellites and causing electrical failures for thousands of kilometers around. Even the Russians are very dependent on satellites.

Historically, nuclear weapons in space have been a less effective option. There were a handful of high-altitude nuclear tests in the 1960s, like the infamous Starfish Prime test, which highlighted the drawbacks of nuclear weapons in space. It can create massive, unpredictable, high-speed debris, making future use of space improbable. 

Although not directly related to interspace warfare, missiles can deliver nuclear warheads to any point on Earth, and Space-based weapons wouldn’t offer much additional strategic benefit.


Nonetheless, in early May, two American officials again mentioned this alleged nuclear anti-satellite weapon.

“What concerns us is Russia’s intention to send a nuclear weapon into space… It would be a blind weapon (that) would have no national borders (and) would not distinguish between military, civilian, and commercial satellites,” said John Plumb, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, during a congressional hearing.

At an event organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington on May 3, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Mallory Stewart stated that “based on what we consider credible,” Russia intends “to integrate nuclear weapons into its space combat programs.” She added that “something” is currently in orbit as part of the development of this nuclear anti-satellite weapon.

This “something” would be the satellite Cosmos-2553, launched on February 5, 2022. It is supposed to have a scientific purpose. However, according to American experts, it orbits in an unusual path not frequented by any other spacecraft. Moreover, its altitude is too high for the experiments mentioned by Russian authorities.

According to the Wall Street Journal from anonymous Biden administration officials, Cosmos-2553 is part of the Russian nuclear anti-satellite weapon program.

This satellite “does not carry a nuclear weapon. But American officials say it is related to the Russian nuclear anti-satellite weapon program, which is causing growing concern. The weapon, if deployed, would give Moscow the ability to destroy hundreds of satellites in low Earth orbit with a nuclear explosion, Western media suggests.

Currently, the United States has 6,700 satellites in low Earth orbit, while China has 780 and Russia 149.

Russian Veto

In April, the United States and Japan failed to get the United Nations Security Council to adopt a resolution calling on all states, particularly those with significant space capabilities, to prevent an arms race in space.

The States Parties to the Outer Space Treaty undertake to fully comply with it, including not placing in orbit around the Earth any object carrying nuclear weapons or any other type of weapons of mass destruction, not installing such weapons on celestial bodies, and not placing such weapons in outer space in any other manner, the text stated.

It also emphasized the “serious consequences for the interests of all member states that could result from the explosion of a nuclear weapon or the use of any other type of weapon of mass destruction in space.” It, therefore, called on states “not to develop nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction specifically designed to be placed in orbit around the Earth, installed on celestial bodies, or placed in outer space in any other manner.”

Cosmos-2553 – Russia’s Secret Satellite: Testing Space Nukes?!

Of the fifteen members of the Security Council, only Russia vetoed this draft resolution, while China abstained.


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