Russia may have placed a new secret weapon into orbit during a scheduled rocket launch. The U.S. military fears that this mysterious object may have the ability to destroy other satellites in orbit.
Mysterious Orbital Body
A rocket that blasted off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Western Russia on Nov. 30 was supposed to place three Rodnik communications satellites into orbit.
The U.S. military's Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC), however, noticed something unusual. The CSpOC expected to track the three satellites and the upper stage of the launch vehicle, or four new orbital bodies in all, at the peak of the rocket's ascent.
The CSpOC, however, found that five orbital objects left the rocket.
It is possible that the upper stage of the rocket broke into two, or the Russians intentionally kept part of the launch a secret. If the latter is true, one of the five objects could the so-called inspector satellite.
Inspector satellites are believed to be weaponized and may have the ability to destroy other satellites in orbit by nudging them into the Earth's atmosphere.
Military officials believe that the ability to disable or destroy another country's satellite is a key national security capability and it is not the first time that Russia was suspected of launching a space weapon.
In May 2014, Russia also launched a mysterious object dubbed 2014-28E into space. The object was initially thought of as a space junk but satellite trackers observed that it performed a number of interesting maneuvers.
"Any satellite with the capability to maneuver has the potential to be a weapon," Joan Johnson-Freese, from the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, commented at the time.
Eavesdropping On Military Communications
Earlier this year, French Defense Minister Florence Parly also accused Russia of sending the Louch-Olym orbiter to eavesdrop on data transmitted to and from the French-Italian military satellite Athena-Fidus, which is used for secure military communications and planning of operations.
"Trying to listen to one's neighbor is not only unfriendly. It's called an act of espionage," Parly said. "It got close. A bit too close. So close that one really could believe that it was trying to capture our communications."