Jul 17, 2019 | Updated: 11:17 AM EDT

Should Mysterious Russian Satellite Be Cause for Concern?

Nov 20, 2014 08:55 PM EST

Russian Spacecraft
(Photo : Scientific American)

Nearly 50 years ago, the world was in a similar climate as it is today. International affairs were rocky at best, and former enemies on the global stage took to space as they would a battlefield. Nations like the U.S. and Soviet Russia engaged in a war of attrition, one that luckily never led to actual battle; but rather led to a space race the United States won first.

But decades later, animosity remains, and while the international dynamics have changed significantly, the appearance of a mysterious spacecraft in Earth's outer orbit has researchers fearing that a piece of the Soviet Union remains - an anti-satellite weaponry program named "Istrebitel Sputnikov". Also known simply as the "Satellite Killer", "Istrebitel Sputnikov" was an ambitious program set forth by Soviet Russia during the Cold War, but since the collapse of the Soviet empire, many thought that the program was retired. That is, until news surfaced in recent months of strange orbiting space debris that may be a threat looming in our outer atmosphere.

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.

"There's always confusion with these sort of things, because no one knows exactly what these satellites are up to" space expert from the Kettering Group of astronomers, Robert Christy says.

And it doesn't help that Russia has revealed so little about its existence. But what researchers do know is that in a recent meeting of the United Nations, Russian officials confirmed that during the May launch they did send four spacecrafts into orbit, instead of the alleged three. And that means that far more mysteries may lie behind the intentions of the possible "Satellite Killer".

"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.

"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."

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