Russian satellites tailing advanced United States spy satellite, report says

Pablo Tucker
February 12, 2020

The two Russian satellites have come within 100 miles of the USA satellite and the United States has raised concerns about the matter to Moscow through diplomatic channels, Space Force Commander Gen. John Raymond told TIME Magazine's W. J. Hennigan.

According to media reports in recent weeks, a Russian inspection satellite Cosmos 2542 has recently synchronized its orbit with US 245 - a satellite the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) operates.

Yleem D.S. Poblete, the USA assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance, told the conference how a 2017 Russian 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".

"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.

CNBC also noted that the Russian spacecraft were as close as 300 kilometers from United States of America 245, in clear view of the US satellite.

Space enthusiast Michael Thompson raised concerns about Cosmos 2542's maneuvers on Twitter late last month. Cosmos 2542 "probably only was close to US 245 for a few days at most before 245 made a maneuver to start to drift away".

Russian spacecraft are trailing a US satellite used to spy on other countries, the commander of the US Space Force told TIME Magazine. One of the spacecraft "exhibited characteristics of a weapon", he said.

To be sure, some satellite watchers have challenged Thompson's analysis and believe more research is needed to confirm that the Russian satellite was intentionally shadowing U.S. 245.

One of those satellites, the US 224, is widely believed to have taken the highly-detailed image of Iran's Imam Khomeini Space Center that President Donald Trump posted on Twitter in August.

T.S. Kelso, senior research astrodynamicist at Analytical Graphics Inc., said in an email to SpaceNews that while orbital data is available for Cosmos 2542 from the U.S. Space Force 18th Space Control Squadron, the U.S. government does not provide similar data for United States of America 245.

Kelso said he could not yet provide any definitive analysis on the Russian inspector satellite because there is no independent source of observation data to address these questions.

The Air Force and Space Force operate a constellation of satellites in space, including more than a dozen Global Positioning System satellites. "These satellites have been actively maneuvering near a US government satellite ... which the Russian government characterized as 'inspector satellites'".

But, experts say satellite crashes will become more common in the future.

"We view this behavior as unusual and disturbing", Raymond said. Most recently, President Donald Trump formed the Space Force, and conveniently it didn't take long for there to be a distressing situation involving the newly-formed military branch. Space fairing nations, Raymond said.

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