Russia launched the object along with three military communications satellites back in May, but the object was undeclared by Russian officials. A Financial Times report from Monday 17 November claimed thats satellite trackers have observed some curious movements from the object in recent weeks.
Certain countries have long recognized the importance of being able to destroy or disable satellites. Along with the Soviet Union and the U.S., China also demonstrated its capabilities when it destroyed one of its own weather satellites in a 2007 test.
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Russia’s satellite killer?
“Object 2014-28E” has joined up with the remnants of the rocket which originally carried it into space, which has led commentators to speculate as to whether Russia has revived the “Istrebitel Sputnikov” (“satellite killer”) project which the USSR was working on during the Cold War.
With the recent worsening of relations between the U.S. and Russia it is easy to see bad intentions behind anything that Putin’s government does. Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island says that the concern is justified, although there are other reasons that Russia could be undertaking these tests.
Both the U.S. Air Force and NASA have launched maneuverable satellites, named Experimental Satellite System-11 (XSS-11) and DART (Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology) respectively. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) also undertook a mission called Orbital Express in 2007 with the aim of testing satellite-servicing technology. These missions also raised fears of a space-arms race.
Brian Weeden, a technical adviser with the Secure World Foundation (a nonprofit organization dedicated to space sustainability) and a former orbital analyst with the Air Force, does not see any great threat from the latest Russian activity. He stated that almost all technology is dual-use.
The Russian spacecraft could be used to carry out maintenance and refuel satellites, or take them out of orbit in an attempt to reduce space-junk, which is an increasingly important problem.
It is possible that the satellite movements are an extension of political maneuverings between the two superpowers. Russian secrecy only adds to speculation, which Putin is more than happy to allow to continue.
“I think that anything the Russians can do to provoke the United States right now, their government is supportive of,” Johnson-Freese said. “If this can cause concern in the United States, they’re all for it.”