(National Sentinel) Defense: For a year, three Russia “killer” satellites orbited the earth in a dormant state, but suddenly, they have now been reactivated and are mysteriously moving towards foreign satellites, The Daily Beast reports.
Shortly after the satellites were launched into a low orbit between 2013 and 2015, they startled space observers and experts when they “began dramatically changing their orbits, demonstrating a rare degree of maneuverability for small spacecraft,” the web site reported, adding:
Now after being idle for a year or more, two of the mystery-sats are on the move again. On April 20, 2017, one of them reportedly shaved hundreds of meters off its orbit in order to zoom within 1,200 meters of a big chunk of a defunct Chinese weather satellite that China smashed in a controversial 2007 test of an anti-satellite rocket.
By orbital standards, that’s pretty close.
No one outside of the Russian government – and, probably, the U.S. military and intelligence communities – seems to really know what the satellites are all about and what their ultimate purpose is.
Except, perhaps, to destroy other satellites:
The original trio of satellites — known by their Russian code names Kosmos-2491, Kosmos-2499 and Kosmos-2504 — seemed to be maneuvering toward specific targets in space when they first began their orbital dances.
Several times in 2014, 2015, and 2016, the roughly 200-pound satellites moved closer and closer to spent stages of the rockets that had delivered them into orbit, approaching to within a few dozen feet of the old booster shells.
That implied that the Kosmos triplets could be inspection satellites capable of closely matching the orbit of another spacecraft and scanning it, or even physically interacting with it in order to repair, modify or dismantle it. The Pentagon calls these “rendezvous and proximity operations.”
Indeed, Anatoly Zak, an independent expert on Russian spacecraft, claimed that the mystery-sats might match the dimensions and performance of a known Russian inspection satellite called Yubileiny.
The possible war-time applications of inspection satellites are obvious. “You can probably equip them with lasers, maybe put some explosives on them,” Zak said of the Kosmos triplets in 2015. “If [one] comes very close to some military satellite, it probably can do some harm.”
So-called inspection satellites are not new, and the U.S government operates a number of them. But secret inspection satellites are not only rare, they are a potential problem if they are really being used for nefarious purposes.
Dr. Laura Grego, a space expert with the Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Daily Beast that periods of being idle are not uncommon. But, “I do find very interesting that the satellite would go dormant for two years and then come back to life to maneuver. That could help the satellite be stealthy.
“One strategy to keep maneuvering satellites stealthy is to pretend they are debris — i.e., not to have them maneuver at all at first, and then come to life later. To be confident this works, you might want to be able to test if your equipment works after being idle for months or years,” she added.