A mysterious Russian satellite is approaching a mysterious American satellite

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Russia just launched a mysterious satellite that could be spying on an even more mysterious US military satellite, as it isThe Russian spacecraft is expected to approach its presumed target on Thursday.

Before its launch on Monday, there was already speculation that the Russian satellite would be a “inspector”, one that stalks other satellites for a closer look. The spy satellite, about to receive the designation Kosmos 2558, was launched into the same orbital plane as a US military satellite. named USA 326, which flew into space in February. Marco Langbroek, a professor of astrodynamics at the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands, tracked the orbital plane of the two satellites and found that the Russian satellite was launched at a time that coincided with that the american satellite passed over the Russian spaceport Plesetsk.

“The two orbits are very close, the main difference is relatively small, of a few tens of kilometers in orbital altitude,” Langbroek told Gizmodo in an email. “So that’s a very clear indication.” The American satellite moves in a sun-synchronous orbit with an inclination of 97.4 degrees, while the Russian satellite moves in an orbit with an inclination of 97.25 degrees, according to Langbroek. The Russian satellite could also maneuver in the coming days to get even closer to its American counterpart.

“Yes do not maneuver beforeKosmos 2558 will pass by USA 326 at a distance of approximately 75 kilometers on August 4, around 14:47 UTC “, said Langbroek.

This type of Russian satellite has already been used to track satellites in orbit. “Presumably, it has some kind of sensor system that is optimized for observing other satellites, rather than the usual observing satellite type that is optimized for taking pictures of the ground,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, a Gizmodo. “We don’t know for sure, we just infer it from how it behaves.” The satellite also has a maneuvering motor system, which allows it to adjust its orbit in various ways, he added. Both seem to be useful tools for stalking.

So why did you choose USA 326 as his prey? Few details about the military satellite are known, which makes it all the more intriguing for Russia. “It’s a new model and it’s of interest because we don’t know much about it,” McDowell said. “I want to know what it’s likeand I am sure that the Russians have exactly the same interest”. By floating next to him in space, the Russian satellite could take some photos to learn any details, such as its antenna or a possible telescope.

Space stalking has happened before, and sometimes the United States he is the one who spies. In 2020, another Russian satellite, Kosmos 2542, lurked to USA 245, an electro-optical spy satellite in low orbit land. In June 2017, the US military satellite USA 276 approached the International Space Station at a distance close to 6.4 kilometers. In early 1998, amateurs discovered an American satellite that was also believed to have been used for space espionage purposes.

In space, it is not illegal to spy. “Even though the satellite stays 100 miles away from from United Statesthe United States government will be angry and he will complain,” McDowell said. “But they really have no right to complain because there is no rule against it.” A unless one satellite gets dangerously close to another satellite, he explained, with a potential risk of collision. “But andn what point are you in the personal space of another satellite? That is the question,” added McDowell.

Langbroek will follow the two satellites in orbit for the next few days to see if they get too close. The United States satellite could get out of the way of its Russian counterpart or just stay in place and allow unwanted attention. We will be watching.

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