Just when you thought, it was safe to go into space — the Russian military has launched another secret military satellite designed to “monitor” other satellites, according to a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry and reported by FOX News.
“The spacecraft, created on the basis of a unified multifunctional space platform, is launched into the target orbit from which the state of domestic satellites can be monitored,” the defense ministry wrote in the statement.
“The optical equipment of the spacecraft also allows you to take pictures of the Earth’s surface.”
US officials fear it may be capable of more than that — in fact, it might be a deadly laser satellite killer. Designed to kill anything in Earth’s orbit — like something out of a James Bond movie.
The satellite was launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket on Monday at 12:52 p.m. EST, 8:52 p.m. local time. The Soyuz-2.1v launch vehicle sent the satellite from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome, the report said.
The defense ministry added that “a stable telemetric connection has been established and maintained with spacecraft” and that “all systems are functioning normally.”
In a separate translated statement, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) said this is the fifth time a Soyuz-2 launch vehicle has occurred in 2019 from Plesetsk, the previous launch having occurred on Sept. 26.
“The Soyuz-2 launch vehicle replaced the Soyuz-U rockets, which were operated at the Plesetsk cosmodrome from 1973 to 2012,” Roscosmos said in the statement. “During this period, 435 launches of Soyuz-U carriers were carried out from Plesetsk, during which about 430 spacecraft of various purposes were put into orbit.”
According to Space.com, Russian authorities did not give notice of the launch ahead of time, only issuing “drop zones” warnings for pieces that would fall away from the Soyuz rocket.
The satellite is a product of the NPO Lavochkin design bureau, best known as a manufacturer of scientific satellites and deep space probes.
It may be used for Earth remote sensing and/or long-distance observations of other objects in orbit, writes Bart Hendrickx, a long-term observer of the Russian space program who has written extensively on Soviet/Russian space history.
According to the BBC, recent Russian satellite launches have caused concerns. A mysterious Russian satellite displaying “very abnormal behaviour” raised alarm in the US, according to a State Department official.
“We don’t know for certain what it is and there is no way to verify it,” said assistant secretary Yleem Poblete at a conference in Switzerland on 14 August.
She voiced fears that it was impossible to say if the object — dubbed the “Russian nesting doll satellite” — may be a weapon.
“[The satellite’s] behaviour on-orbit was inconsistent with anything seen before from on-orbit inspection or space situational awareness capabilities, including other Russian inspection satellite activities,” Poblete told the conference on disarmament in Switzerland.
“Russian intentions with respect to this satellite are unclear and are obviously a very troubling development,” she added, citing recent comments made by the commander of Russia’s Space Forces, who said adopting “new prototypes of weapons” was a key objective for the force.
Poblete said that the US had “serious concerns” that Russia was developing anti-satellite weapons.
Space weapons may be designed to cause damage in more subtle ways than traditional weapons like guns, which could cause a lot of debris in orbit, explained Alexandra Stickings, a space security expert at the Royal United Services Institute.
“[Such weapons may include] lasers or microwave frequencies that could just stop [a satellite] working for a time, either disable it permanently without destroying it or disrupt it via jamming,” she said.
But it was difficult to know what technology is available because so much information on space-based capabilities is classified, she added.
She also said it would be very difficult to prove that any event causing interference in space was an intentional, hostile action by a specific nation state.