Mysterious Russian spacecraft appears to be chasing US military satellite

US satellite appears to have made its first jump to a higher orbit away from Russian spacecraft

Vishwam Sankaran
Friday 28 April 2023 07:15 BST
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A strange Russian “inspector” spacecraft appears to be stalking a confidential US military satellite, experts have pointed out.

The Russian satellite Kosmos-2558, launched in August last year, has frequently come close to the American military satellite USA-326, which the Pentagon said is meant to gather intelligence via “overhead reconnaissance”.

Space observers have flagged Kosmos-2558 as an “inspector” satellite capable of moving close to other satellites and gathering data.

Orbiting Earth in the same plane but at different speeds, the Russian satellite has been able to pass beneath USA-326.

When Kosmos-2558 was launched in August 2022, it was placed in almost the same orbit as the classified US reconnaissance satellite, noted.

In March, observers reported Kosmos-2558 performing an orbit-raising maneuver to reach an inclination of about 35km below USA-326.

In the latest development amid this cat-and-mouse chase, the US satellite appears to have made its first jump to a higher orbit away from Kosmos-2558, Insider reported, citing astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell.

The Russian satellite was approaching USA-326 for a close pass of about 30km on 7 April, but after the latter’s orbit change, the shortest distance between the two increased to 45km, space observer Nico Janssen noted.

This is not the first time US and Russian satellites have engaged in such manoeuvers.

In 2020, another Russian spacecraft, Kosmos-2542, made several approaches close to the US optical intelligence satellite USA-245.

The US has frequently condemned Russia’s “irresponsible” activities in orbit.

US vice president Kamala Harris voiced concerns last year over Russian missile tests to take out their own satellites, calling such moves “reckless” and “irresponsible” as they could put other space missions in danger.

In 2018, the US also condemned Russia’s launch of a mysterious satellite that appeared to have a “space apparatus inspector” and exhibiting “very abnormal behaviour”.

A US Space Force general also warned Russian and Chinese spacecraft could attack US satellites with lasers and jammers.

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