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Russia Loses Another One of Its Early-Warning Satellites

The odds of a nuclear-arms miscalculation by Moscow could increase because another one of its threat-detection satellites has ceased working.

The Russian defense ministry has revealed that its last geostationary satellite, which remains in permanent orbit above the United States, has stopped functioning, according to the science news website io9. Russia has other satellites capable of detecting intercontinental ballistic-missile launches, but they travel in highly elliptical orbits instead of being positioned directly above the United States, as was the case with the now-defunct Cosmos 2479 satellite, the Moscow Times reported on Wednesday.

An anonymous ministry source told the Kommersant newspaper that the Cosmos 2479 was originally supposed to operate until 2017-2019, but that it began showing performance problems not long after it was launched in 2012. The space-based sensor was able to maintain a certain level of performance but that ended in April, the source said.

Russia's ability to detect ICBM threats has been getting worse over the years as more and more of its constellation of Soviet-era missile-detection satellites have ceased operating. At present, the former Cold War power can only monitor for U.S. missile launches for three hours a day.

Without comprehensive antimissile satellite coverage of the Earth, it becomes more difficult to distinguish a possible ICBM launch from a scientific rocket firing or a naturally occurring phenomenon. An inability to distinguish innocuous events from missile threats raises the likelihood of a strategic nuclear miscalculation, particularly during a time of already high East-West tensions.

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