A Russian space object launched in May, previously believed to be stray junk, may actually be a top-secret war satellite that marks a covert bid by Vladimir Putin to win military control of outer space, observers of the Russian space program now fear.
The object, labeled by observers Object 2014-28E, went up on a rocket sent into space by Russia earlier this year, carrying three new satellites. But the strange space object did not seem to fit in with the other three military communications satellites on board, which originally led United States authorities at NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) to label the object nothing but a piece of debris of the type commonly seen in space launches.
But according to a Monday report in the Financial Times, which broke the story of the mysterious Russian space object, NORAD has recently noticed the satellite executing what appear to be deliberate, guided movements in space.
Russia did not announce the launch of the space object, and has not issued any comment even acknowledging its existence, facts which have raised further suspicions about the Russian satellite’s true purpose.
Experts on the Russian military space program fear that the object could, in fact, be Russia’s legendary “satellite killer,” a Soviet-era program designed to unleash satellites capable of attacking and destroying other satellites in space.
Given the vast reliance of the United States and Europe on satellite technology for communications, GPS services, and many other crucial functions in both the civilian and military spheres, the havoc that could be caused by a killer satellite taking out other satellites appears immeasurable.
But experts are still not positive that the Russian space object is actually a new version of the Soviet-era satellite killer.
“It could have a number of functions, some civilian and some military,” space security expert Patricia Lewis told the Financial Times. “One possibility is for some kind of grabber bar. Another would be kinetic pellets which shoot out at another satellite. Or possibly there could be a satellite-to-satellite cyber attack or jamming.”
After the end of the Cold War more than two decades ago, Russia, the United States and other nations put their satellite killer programs on the backburner. But in 2010, the Russian space agency chief, Oleg Ostapenko, announced that Russia was again developing satellites with a “strike” capability.
China also deploys killer satellites, whose stated purpose is to destroy satellites whose decaying orbits make them a danger to the Earth below before those older satellites crash to the surface.
But killer satellites can also be used to take down functioning satellites, potentially wiping out a large portion of a nation’s entire communications system or crippling military operations.
Experts caution, however, that the mysterious Russian space satellite could be anything. For example, it could be designed simply to clean up debris from other Russian satellites.