Our brand new Space Force released their very first official statement on Monday. Two Russian satellites are doing something that their experts call “unusual and disturbing.” For more than a month they’ve been stalking America’s USA-245 reconnaissance satellite. This is exactly why we have the new space operations service branch.
First official Space Force report
The first report coming out of President Donald Trump’s new Space Force warns that two Russian spy satellites are “inspecting” an American spy satellite. “Last November the Russian government launched a satellite that subsequently released a second satellite,” Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond writes.
“These satellites have been actively maneuvering near a U.S. government satellite.” What they are stalking is called USA-245 and is a reconnaissance satellite operated by the National Reconnaissance Office. It’s the last of the “Keyhole” program to be launched. They’re used “to provide high-resolution optical and infrared imagery for US intelligence agencies.”
Based on the way the Russian equipment behaves, they’re convinced the interlopers are “inspector satellites” which the Russians claim are used to inspect their own equipment.
“The purpose of the experiment is to continue work on assessing the technical condition of domestic satellites,” the Russian Defense Ministry claims. The orbit doesn’t match that official story though.
If the Ruskies were doing this kind of thing on the ground, it would be cause for action. Russia’s recent actions “have turned space into a warfighting domain,” General Raymond asserts. “Similar activities in any other domain would be interpreted as potentially threatening behavior.”
Characteristics of a weapon
General Raymond is especially concerned about the way the second satellite was deployed from inside the first like a Russian nesting doll. It was too much like a missile launch for his comfort. The Russian satellites “exhibited characteristics of a weapon when one of those satellites released a high-speed projectile.”
“This is unusual and disturbing behavior and has the potential to create a dangerous situation in space. The United States finds these recent activities to be concerning and do not reflect the behavior of a responsible spacefaring nation.”
There aren’t any plans to shoot the hostile craft out of orbit, yet. Space Force Command has taken the issue up diplomatically with the Russians and we’re watching to see what they do.
In 2018, Yleem D.S. Poblete, the assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance, told a U.N. conference that a similar satellite, launched in 2017, was behaving suspiciously.
It’s “behavior on-orbit was inconsistent with anything seen before from on-orbit inspection or space situational awareness capabilities, including other Russian inspection satellite activities.”
She didn’t trust the diplomats any further than she could throw them. “What Russia tells us diplomatically and publicly may be the opposite of what it intends to do with that satellite.”