Attacks and cyberattacks on satellites becoming more common, says EU's top diplomat

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By Aida Sanchez Alonso
An engineer sits in front of a monitor showing an animation of space debris at the European Space Agency's new Space Safety Centre, in Darmstadt, Germany, Aprill 12, 2022.
An engineer sits in front of a monitor showing an animation of space debris at the European Space Agency's new Space Safety Centre, in Darmstadt, Germany, Aprill 12, 2022.   -   Copyright  Arne Dedert/dpa via AP

Attacks and cyberattacks on satellites are becoming more common and a cause for security concerns, according to the EU's foreign affairs chief.

Josep Borrell said on Tuesday that one of those attacks was a clear sign of the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking at the opening of the European Space Conference in Brussels, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs said that 24 hours before Moscow invaded its neighbour in February last year, the space telecommunication network used by the Ukrainian army was targeted by a cyberattack and that the malicious code used managed to bring down parts of the network.

"Space has become a strategic space, I won't say a battlefield, but a place where satellites are or can be targeted," Borrell told Euronews.

"We are critically dependent on information that is received or bounced back from satellites. Most of our civilian and military infrastructure depends on a satellite system."

There are now 5,500 satellites in orbit, with around 10% used by the world's military. NATO is now defining space as one of the most important areas. 

But Borrell said risks could also come from the physical destruction of satellites.

"Russia recently destroyed one of its satellites with a ground-launched missile. If it did it to one of its [own] satellites, it can do it to any other satellite tomorrow. So we have to be concerned about the safety of the elements that are in space," the EU's top diplomat said.

"The destruction of a satellite fills space with small metallic particles. They are small but at the speed at which they go they are tremendously dangerous."

The European Commission will present a new space initiative in March that aims to guarantee security both for people and the bloc's critical infrastructure.