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Russia Reportedly Launches ‘Counter-Space’ Satellite
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Russia Reportedly Launches ‘Counter-Space’ Satellite

The device is ‘presumably capable of attacking other satellites,’ but it is unlikely to be nuclear-capable at this point.

Happy Friday! Blue Jays fan Liz McGuire was minding her own business, watching a game in Toronto on Friday when she was hit in the face by a 110-mile-per-hour foul ball, getting a doozy of a goose egg for her trouble. Like a true fan, she gutted it out and stayed until the last pitch, and she didn’t even get the ball that hit her.  

But the shortstop who hit the offending foul sent her a signed ball—and to top it off, she now has her own trading card. How can you not be romantic about baseball?

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Senate on Thursday failed to pass the bipartisan immigration compromise first put forward in February by a vote of 43-50. Two of the three original negotiators of the legislation, GOP Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma and independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, joined nearly every Republican—with the exception of Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—and a handful of Democrats in voting down the legislation. 
  • In a 6-3 decision on Thursday, the Supreme Court threw out a lower court ruling that held a South Carolina congressional district was a racial gerrymander. In the majority opinion—joined by the other conservative justices—Justice Samuel Alito held that the district was drawn primarily to give a political advantage to Republicans, not to disenfranchise black voters, as the NAACP argued.
  • The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Power Five athletic conferences reached a $2.8 billion agreement on Thursday to settle three federal antitrust lawsuits, paving the way for the NCAA to pay athletes directly for the first time. As part of the deal, the NCAA will pay out the almost $3 billion settlement over a decade to players who were denied the ability to earn endorsements and sponsorship deals and schools would be allowed, but not required, to directly compensate athletes as part of a revenue-sharing system. A judge must approve the deal.   
  • The Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department announced on Thursday that railroad operator Norfolk Southern agreed to a more than $500 million settlement to address the environmental harm caused when its train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, last year. Some $300 million will go toward environmental cleanup in the town while another $200 million will pay for railway safety upgrades. 
  • Louisiana state lawmakers passed first-of-its-kind legislation on Thursday to reclassify two abortion-inducing drugs—mifepristone and misoprostol—as controlled substances. The bill—which Republican Gov. Jeff Landry is expected to sign into law—would require doctors prescribing the drugs to get a special license to do so, as well as institute criminal penalties for those in possession of them without a prescription. It is already illegal to use the pills to induce an abortion in the state, except to save the life of the mother or in the case of a fatal fetal abnormality.

Who’s Afraid of a Space Nuke? 

In this pool photograph distributed by Russia's state-run news agency Sputnik, Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on the development of the country's military-industrial complex at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 15, 2024. (Photo by VYACHESLAV PROKOFYEV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
In this pool photograph distributed by Russia's state-run news agency Sputnik, Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on the development of the country's military-industrial complex at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 15, 2024. (Photo by VYACHESLAV PROKOFYEV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

One of your Morning Dispatchers would like to take this opportunity to apologize to her office-mates at Dispatch HQ for talking incessantly about Apple TV+’s series, For All Mankind. But her hours spent watching the fantastic alternate history, Cold-War-Space-Race-inspired TV show this spring have paid off, functioning as a strange sort of primer for today’s TMD

Though it may seem more like the stuff of excellent prestige dramas than reality, Russia launched a satellite last week of … ambiguous purpose, highlighting just how present a concern space capabilities and the development of counter-space weapons are in real life. Russia, once a space power but now in decline, is developing new ways to degrade U.S. assets in space, including with technology that could blur the line between weapon and more benign space tech as fears of a latent nuclear satellite capability loom. 

“What I’m tracking here is on May 16 … Russia launched a satellite into low-Earth orbit that we assess is likely a counter-space weapon, presumably capable of attacking other satellites in low-Earth orbit,” Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters on Wednesday. That Russian satellite, U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM) said, now occupies the same orbit as a U.S. government satellite. 

What does that mean in plain English? “A whole range of mechanisms can be counter-space weapons, but what they’re intended to do is to disrupt, degrade, or destroy someone else’s space capability,” Todd Harrison, a senior fellow studying space policy and security at the American Enterprise Institute, told TMD. Those weapons could electronically block signals from satellites that provide functions on Earth, from GPS to the internet to government surveillance. Or the “counter-space” weapon could attack such an asset physically, turning it into little pieces of space junk. There’s so far no public or official indication that this new Russian satellite will indeed be put to such use. 

The Kremlin denies there’s anything untoward about its new satellite that just happens to be floating around in the same orbit as a U.S. government device. “I don’t think we should respond to any fake news from Washington,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reportedly said. Moscow, Ryabkov insisted, has “always consistently opposed the deployment of strike weapons in low-Earth orbit.” 

U.S. officials say this launch is similar to previous ones in 2017, 2019, and 2022, when, according to the U.S. military, Moscow deployed “nesting doll” satellites that released additional objects into orbit at high speed that were inconsistent with the satellites’ stated mission. “I don’t want to put too fine a point on it,” then-U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Christopher Ford said in 2020, “but Cosmos 2521 demonstrated the ability to position itself near another satellite and to fire a projectile.” Those Russian satellites have stalked U.S. assets in their path. 

But the launches could have a more benign purpose. “Russia says that satellite is for testing components on the satellite in a high radiation environment,” Harrison said. “The orbit it’s in is consistent with that.”

Russian satellite capabilities are a bit of a touchy subject, after House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Turner of Ohio sent all of Washington, D.C., into a panic in February with a cryptic statement about a “serious national security threat.” 

“I am requesting that President Biden declassify all information relating to this threat,” he wrote, without naming the concern, “so that Congress, the Administration, and our allies can

openly discuss the actions necessary to respond to this threat.” The White House later confirmed that the nameless threat was an “anti-satellite capability that Russia is developing” that can’t “be used to attack human beings or cause physical destruction here on Earth,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

Earlier this month, in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John F. Plumb confirmed reports that suggested the new weapon would be somehow nuclear-capable. “Russia is also developing a concerning anti-satellite capability related to a new satellite carrying a nuclear device Russia is developing,” he said.

Harrison said it doesn’t currently seem—based on publicly available information—like the satellite launched last week and the latent nuclear satellite-killer are linked. Nor is it clear what form some sort of nuclear satellite may take, according to Clayton Swope, deputy director of the aerospace security project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “One camp is that this is more along the lines of a traditional nuclear weapon,” he told TMD. “That creates an [electromagnetic pulse]; that creates radiation that could damage satellites.” But that possibility doesn’t much change the status quo for nuclear deterrence calculus, particularly since the U.S. and Russia both previously tested nuclear weapons in low space. 

“The other camp could be a device that is powered by a nuclear device of some sort,” Swope explained. “A third category is a weapon [that is] optimized for some effect that’s outside of a traditional nuclear bomb. So is it optimized in some way for an [electromagnetic pulse]? Is it optimized in some way for a very particular type of radiation emission that doesn’t necessarily focus on a blast?” All of those possibilities, he said, would likely be fairly indiscriminate and catastrophic for satellites currently in orbit.   

Putting a nuclear weapon into orbit would violate the terms of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty to which both the U.S. and Russia are parties—for whatever that’s worth. Perhaps not much, after Russia in late April vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution reaffirming the parties’ commitment to the treaty and urged “all States, in particular those with major space capabilities, to contribute actively to the objective of the peaceful use of outer space and of the prevention of an arms race in outer space.” 

“Russia has vetoed a straightforward resolution that affirms a legally binding obligation,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas Greenfield said at the time. “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin himself has said publicly that Russia has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons in space.”

“So today’s veto begs the question, why?” she asked. “Why, if you are following the rules, would you not support a resolution that reaffirms them? What could you possibly be hiding?”

But that was just the opening salvo in a U.N. Security Council resolution war that this week saw the U.S. and six of its supporters vote against a Russia-sponsored resolution—also backed by the always-stand-up governments of Syria, North Korea, Nicaragua, Belarus, and China—that U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood, the alternative representative for special political affairs, called “the culmination of Russia’s campaign of diplomatic gaslighting and dissembling.” The Russian resolution was similar on its face to the U.S.-backed version, though it was more expansive in calling for all weapons to be kept out of space, not just weapons of mass destruction. 

In a response that reads a bit like “I’m rubber; you’re glue,” the Russian representative to the U.N. condemned the votes against his country’s resolution. “If they fail to support this, then they will clearly show that their main priority remains keeping freedom of the way for themselves to expedite the militarization of outer space,” Vasily Nebenzya said.

The U.S. military and intelligence agencies are bolstering the country’s space capabilities to make it more resilient to the potential Russian—and, indeed, Chinese—threat, made possible much more cheaply than in decades past thanks to commercial technology driving a space boom. On Wednesday, SpaceX—Elon Musk’s space exploration company—launched the first of several batches of surveillance satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office, a U.S. intelligence agency, as part of its “proliferated constellation” of satellites. 

“We’re talking thousands of satellites that cover the earth,” Harrison told TMD. “And so what that does for you is it makes you much more resilient to attack. Someone could shoot down one to 10 or 20 of your satellites. And if you’ve got several thousand in orbit, it doesn’t really affect your capacity that much. That’s where the U.S. military is moving now.”

Worth Your Time

  • The past 40 years have seen a significant decline in drunk driving and drunk driving-related fatalities. In an essay for Works in Progress, Nick Cowen argued that such progress provides a lesson in the power of stigma. “Viewed from the 1960s it might have seemed like ending drunk driving would be impossible,” he wrote. “Yet things did change: in 1980, 1,450 fatalities were attributed to drunk driving accidents in the UK. In 2020, there were 220. … Many things have happened in the last 40 years that contributed to this reduction. Vehicles are better designed to prioritize life preservation in the event of a collision. Emergency hospital care has improved so that people are more likely to survive serious injuries from car accidents. But, above all, driving while drunk has become stigmatized. … Two underappreciated ideas stick out from this experience. First, deterrence works: incentives matter to offenders much more than many scholars found initially plausible. Second, the long-run impact that successful criminal justice interventions have is not primarily in rehabilitation, incapacitation, or even deterrence, but in altering the social norms around acceptable behavior.”
  • Writing for UnHerd, David Bell explored the nascent return of scientific history—a concept central to Isaac Asimov’s science fiction series Foundation. “Could history ever become a truly scientific discipline?” Bell wrote. “In the past few years, a number of thinkers have found new ways to say yes. …  New attempts at a scientific history have begun to appear. A field calling itself ‘cliodynamics’, spearheaded by the polymath biologist Peter Turchin, has attracted considerable attention, in part because in 2010 Turchin predicted that the United States was heading for massive instability exactly 10 years later. Turchin argues that history can become a ‘mathematised science’ and explicitly compares himself to Asimov’s ‘psycho-historians’. Meanwhile, an increasing number of historians have been using data compiled by actual scientists about past physical changes in the world (especially climate change) to offer new explanations for political and social events such as the fall of the Roman Empire. For the moment, most historians remain either ignorant or skeptical of these new approaches. But should they once again embrace the banner of science?”

Presented Without Comment

New York Times: Political Consultant Who Orchestrated Fake Biden Robocalls Is Indicted

Also Presented Without Comment 

The Hill: [Sen. Ted] Cruz on [Amb. Nikki] Haley Backing Trump: ‘I Understand That Journey’

Also Also Presented Without Comment 

Wall Street Journal: Detective in Scottie Scheffler Arrest Violated Police Department Policy 

In the Zeitgeist 

It’s almost beach read time, friends. The New York Times Book Review created a handy compilation of the best books of the last twenty years that you can toggle through by year and genre to find the perfect read for Memorial Day Weekend relaxation.

Toeing the Company Line

  • We aim to serve! If you’d like to return to a password-based login, you can now do so. Simply click the My Account button in the top-right corner of the website, navigate to the “Profile” tab, click where it says “Click here to add a password,” enter a password, save changes, and voilà. If you’re fine with an email-based login, no need to do anything! As always, email us at with any questions.
  • Alex debunked the narrative that the FBI was intent on using “deadly force” in its August 2022 raid on Mar-a-Lago. 
  • In the newsletters: Nick wondered (🔒) what’s in it for Nikki Haley to announce she’s voting for Trump, and Will revisited the Cambridge Analytica scandal six years later. 
  • On the podcasts: Sarah and David discussed Sarah’s interview with Justice Stephen Breyer and SCOTUS’ racial gerrymandering ruling on Advisory Opinions, and Jonah is joined by Steve and Mike to unpack the “deadly force” lie and Haley’s endorsement of Trump on The Dispatch Podcast
  • On the site: Kevin laments the demise of humor in our political era, and Drucker reports from Las Vegas on Biden’s prospects in Nevada. 

Let Us Know

Are you concerned about hostilities in space?

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.

Peter Gattuso is a reporter for The Morning Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2024, he interned at The Dispatch, National Review, the Cato Institute, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. When Peter is not helping write TMD, he is probably watching baseball, listening to music on vinyl records, or discussing the Jones Act.