Nov 19, 2014 05:45 PM EST
Decades later, and a Russian space mission may just kick off yet another space race much closer to home. With news of fallen missiles creating craters in northern Siberia, and secret space missions being launched from the Russian side of the world, sky gazers have kept their eyes peeled in recent months for anything peculiar up in the sky. But now six months after researchers say that a Russian object was put into orbit around the Earth, astronomers fear that Russia's spacecraft may be conducting a test run for anti-satellite warfare.
The satellite in question comes by many names: 2014-28E, Cosmos 2499, or even NORAD object 39765. But whatever you decide to call it, one truth remains, experts don't know yet what it is and that makes it a danger to other satellites currently in Earth's outer orbit. Popping up in space early last May, after a Russian Rokot-Briz launch sent three military communication satellites up into space, experts originally believed the object to just be a piece of space debris. But since then 2014-28E has moved into different orbits, and has even made its way back to nearby Russian military satellites - something that has satellite observers worried about the intentions Russia has for the mysterious object.
Since as far back as the 1950's, Russia has looked into the possibility of developing an anti-satellite system they call the "Satellite Killer", and these recent maneuvers approaching other space agencies' property may mean that the plans are back on. But even in spite of surmounting questions, the mystery around 2014-28E deepens by the fact that Russia has revealed little about its intentions.
"The possibility that these kinds of activities are preparing a major and unpleasant surprise for U.S. military capabilities warrants a lot of attention, and a lot of questions for Moscow" NBC News space analyst James Oberg says.
But if the average satellite watcher can see its behavior, Oberg suggests that the Pentagon is already tasked with investigating the spacecraft. "
"Presumably, U.S. military observers have seen the same thing, but in even greater detail."
While NASA and Air Force researchers say that the possibility of anti-satellite technology is something that the U.S. may be able to handle, concerns about anti-satellite weapons sparked international debate years ago about the prospects of a surprise attack in space - and new reports flare the controversy up again.
"The payoff in building such weapons isn't so much as a tool to make a space sneak attack, it's to raise doubts in the minds of American military leaders about the survivability of their space assets" Oberg says.
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