By Jon Dougherty
(TNS) The commander of the U.S. Space Force said Monday that a pair of Russian spacecraft have been operating dangerously close to a U.S. spy satellite for months and that the actions are irresponsible for a space power.
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“Last November the Russian government launched a satellite that subsequently released a second satellite. These satellites have been actively maneuvering near a U.S. government satellite … which the Russian government characterized as ‘inspector satellites,’” U.S. General John Raymond said in a statement to CNBC.
The news site noted further that amateur space sleuths discovered the tracking last month, which no doubt added to the Pentagon’s concerns:
The extraordinary situation was noted by amateur spacecraft trackers last month, who pointed out that Russian satellite Kosmos 2542 had slowly made its way into the same area in orbit as USA 245 – a satellite the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) operates. The NRO is an agency within the Department of Defense and one of the five major U.S. intelligence agencies.
Kosmos 2542 was not initially near USA 245. But, two weeks after launch, the Russian satellite split into two different objects. By the middle of January, Kosmos 2542 and Kosmos 2543 had moved in orbit and were closing in on USA 245. The Russian spacecraft were as close as 300 kilometers from USA 245, in clear view of the U.S. satellite. Additionally, the two Russian objects were able to see multiple sides of USA 245 due to the nature of their orbits – causing satellite trackers to speculate that Kosmos 2542 and Kosmos 2543 were indeed inspecting USA 245.
Raymond, newly appointed to head up Space Force, compared the recent activities to Russian satellite tests in 2017. Those satellites “exhibited characteristics of a weapon,” Raymond said, because one of the spacecraft fired “a high-speed projectile into space.”
“This is unusual and disturbing behavior and has the potential to create a dangerous situation in space,” he said.
“The United States finds these recent activities to be concerning and do not reflect the behavior of a responsible spacefaring nation,” Raymond said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in December that a maneuver by the satellites — in which one satellite “birthed” another resulting in two satellites — was an experiment to assess the “technical condition of domestic satellites,” according to the Russian news agency TASS.
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