Jackals in orbit: Satellite hunters are preparing for a space war

Usually spy satellites are military projects of different states. But it seems that commercial companies are interfering in the military space business. The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has just filed documents with a detailed plan for the test launch of two commercial intelligence satellites, Wired reports. 

An illustration of a spy satellite from the startup True Anomaly. Image: Wired

The satellites created by the space startup True Anomaly are planned to be launched using a SpaceX rocket in October this year. Once in orbit, each Jackal — as the models are called — will practice what the company calls “orbital pursuit of satellites” in low Earth orbit.

Designed for space warfare

The spacecraft will not be equipped with warheads or lasers, but they will be capable of performing so-called rendezvous proximity operations (RPO). In other words, they will be able to maneuver next to satellites of other countries in order to intercept the information transmitted by them. Therefore, the developers clearly say that these spacecraft are designed specifically for conducting space warfare.

“True Anomaly is revolutionizing space security with fully integrated technologies designed to protect the interests of the United States and its allies,” explains Even Rogers, former major in the US Air Force, CEO and co-founder of True Anomaly.

Satellites to protect the interests of the United States

During the first training mission, called Demo-1, Jackal will spy one after another, using radars and multispectral cameras to approach several hundred meters. If all goes well, the company’s CEO Even Rogers will send a fleet of similar satellites into Earth orbit, which will work in favor of the US Armed Forces. 

The satellites themselves are based on outdated technologies, which reduces the cost of their creation. They even have a number of practical non-military applications, such as transporting objects in orbit. But investors are undoubtedly delighted with the main idea of “Star Wars” of True Anomaly, given that the company has raised approximately USD 23 million in funding.

Escalation factor

On the other hand, some experts wonder whether the existence of the Jackal project in the future can become a factor of escalation, which NATO and the United States are trying so hard to avoid. 

“I am concerned about this project because it may cause an unintended escalation. Our adversaries may perceive Jackal’s approach to their satellites as military aggression,” said Caitlin Johnson, deputy director of the aerospace security project at the Center for Strategic Studies.

Earlier, EU representative Josep Borrel spoke about how the war in Ukraine showed the importance of satellites.

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