An unknown vehicle was launched into orbit, and there’s speculation that it might be a Russian “satellite-killer” controlled by the country’s military.
The mysterious object–called Object 2014-28E–is being tracked by Western space agencies, according to FT.com. The object is guiding itself toward other Russian space objects.
It was originally classified as space debris that was propelled into orbit by a Russian rocket. However, it has since been classified under Norad designation 39765.
“Whatever it is, [Object 2014-28E] looks experimental,” Patricia Lewis, who is the research director at think-tank Chatham House and is also an expert in space security, told FT.
She added: “It could have a number of functions, some civilian and some military. 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.”
Moscow has not commented on the object in space.
Before the Soviet Union collapsed two decades ago, Russia was working on “satellite killer” technology before it was mothballed.
In November, 1963, the Soviet Union gave birth to the first prototype of the Istrebitel Sputnik, or killer satellite. The goal was to approach an enemy satellite, and then blow it up. In November of 1968, the USSR managed to destroy a target satellite in orbit. Ten years later, it was wholly operational. As the Cold War came to an end, and the Iron Curtain lifted, however, the first president of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, put a stop the program. That was right when the project became public, with a photo of the Istrebitel Sputnik.
But four years ago, Russian space force commander Oleg Ostapenko said that Russia has the capacity to respond to threats in space.
“The USSR was developing inspection and strike spacecraft. Our policy—there should be no war in space, but we are military people and should be ready for everything. Our activities in this direction would be dependent on others, but, trust me, we would be able to respond quickly and adequately,” he said at the time.
The US has its own technology to take down satellites. According to the Guardian:
Mind you, the US and China both already have the technology to shoot down satellites, and China launched some moderately suspicious objects of its own in July last year.