Is Russia's New Orbiter a Satellite-Killer?


Object 2014-28E could be a satellite killer designed by Russia, capable of striking vital space resources of the United States, China or any other nation. Mystery surrounds a rocket launch in May 2014 that has many observers questioning the purpose behind an odd object launched into space by Russian officials.

Amateur astronomers around the world have been tracking object 2014-28E, as it repeatedly changes course, in each case heading directly toward a rendezvous with Russian materials in orbit. One of these objects is the extinguished shell of the booster rocket that brought the mysterious object into space. Object 2014-28E was launched into space aboard a vehicle carrying three Rodnik communications satellites, which became part of a Russian military satellite network.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) originally classified the object as space debris, believing the object was a castoff section of the rocket which brought the trio of satellites to orbit. Now, the possible satellite-killer is being carefully tracked by the U.S. Military, labeled as Norad designation 39765.

Istrebitel Sputnikov (Satellite Killer) was a system under development before the fall of the Soviet Union, capable of destroying enemy satellites, hundreds of miles above the Earth. Military leaders there mothballed the project after the fall of communism, but research and technology developed during that time remains.

Destroying satellites may not be the ultimate purpose of Object 2014-28E. The mysterious vehicle could be designed to clean up space debris, or for in-space vehicle refueling. However, the relative secrecy of the launched has given rise to questions about the object's ultimate intent.

"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," Patricia Lewis, a space security expert and Chatham House research director, said.

The Cold War set the United States and the Soviet Union at cross-purposes in the weaponization of space. However, no major weapons systems were ever placed into orbit by either of the superpowers. The Outer Space treaty of 1966 banned weapons of mass destruction from space. That pact was reinforced by the Space Preservation Treaty of 2006, which bans all space weapons.

Russian officials have stated in recent years they could resume the development of killer satellites if relations between their nations and the United States deteriorated. With diplomatic ties between the nations strained, this launch could represent the resumption of the race to weaponize space.

Object 2014-28E can be tracked in real time on

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