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Russian military could target satellites amid Ukraine conflict, NRO chief warns: report

 This image, snapped on Feb. 22, 2022, by a Maxar Worldview satellite, shows heavy equipment transporters in western Klintsy, Russia.
This image, snapped on Feb. 22, 2022, by a Maxar Worldview satellite, shows heavy equipment transporters in western Klintsy, Russia. (Image credit: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)

Various satellites could be targets of the Russian military as it invades Ukraine, said the head of the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which operates the nation's fleet of spy satellites.

"I think we're seeing pretty clearly that Russia is committed to doing what they want to do in Ukraine, and they want to win," NRO Director Christopher Scolese said Wednesday (Feb. 23) at the National Security Space Association's Defense and Intelligence Space Conference, SpaceNews reported (opens in new tab)

"So I think it's fair to assume that, to the extent that they can, and to the extent that they feel it won't extend the conflict out of their control, that they will extend it into space," Scolese added. Russian military forces invaded Ukraine early Thursday local time, according to the New York Times (opens in new tab).

Related: US launch providers eyeing Russia-Ukraine situation 

Though he didn't make specific predictions about what measures Russia may take, Scolese noted that the nation already does GPS jamming, according to SpaceNews. He urged operators of both commercial and government satellites to be careful.

"I would tell everybody that the important thing is to go off and ensure that your systems are secure and that you're watching them very closely, because we know that the Russians are effective cyber actors," Scolese said, according to SpaceNews. "And, again, it's hard to say how far their reach is going to go in order to achieve their objectives. But it's better to be prepared than surprised." Read the whole story at SpaceNews here (opens in new tab).

Russia has gathered about 150,000 troops on or near the Ukraine border, U.S. President Joe Biden said this week (opens in new tab). He characterized the troop movements as an invasion and announced the imposition of a new set of economic sanctions in response. 

That response is likely to ratchet up, as Russia began military operations in Ukraine on Wednesday. Explosions were heard across the country, including in the capital city of Kyiv, according to CNN (opens in new tab)

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab)

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Mike Wall
Mike Wall

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com (opens in new tab) and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.