Russia has built and launched a new satellite that is fueling speculations. The spacecraft called Object 2014-28E was launched by the Russian military and has taken odd paths visiting satellites in low Earth orbit.
Both the Soviet Union and the United States had anti-satellite weaponry programs over three decades ago and the space object's strange maneuvers had some fear that Russia has yet again taken an interest in anti-satellite weapons, or ASAT.
It is believed that the country scrapped its anti-satellite weaponry program, the Istrebitel Sputnikov, in the 1980's but in 2010, Oleg Ostapenko, commander of the Russian space forces said that the country still has the capability to respond to threats from space and that it was working on inspection and strike spacecraft.
"The USSR was developing inspection and strike spacecraft," Ostapenko told the Russian news agency TASS. "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."
The movement of 2014-28E, which was launched along three communication satellites from northern Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome on May 23, is a characteristic of a satellite killer. Satellite killing aircraft could visit and destroy spy satellites in a number of ways such as by using a robot arm to disable other satellites' solar panels or placing an explosive charge on the satellites to cripple them.
Western space agencies, militaries and even amateur satellite observers are tracking 2014-28E albeit its purpose is still shrouded in mystery. The three satellites that were launched with it, Kosmos 2496, 2497 and 2498, are believed to be intended for military communications.
Although some speculate that the 2014-28E could destroy or disable spacecraft that are already in orbit, some believe it could also be used for collecting space junk or repairing broken satellites. Space security expert Patricia Lewis thinks that the satellite is experimental and that it isn't constrained to one purpose.
"It could have a number of functions, some civilian and some military," Lewis said.
While there is the possibility that Russia indeed has a satellite-killer in space, it is not the only country with the ability to destroy spacecraft. The US Air Force's X-37B space plane, for instance, which conducts long term secret missions in orbit, is capable of precise movements and may also have the capability to inspect and destroy satellites in space.