Mysterious Russian satellite disintegrates in orbit
Artistic illustration of a satellite disintegrating in Earth orbit (Photo:ESA/ID&Sense/ONiRiXEL, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
A Russian satellite broke apart in orbit on Jan. 3, the U.S. Space Force reported on Twitter on Feb. 7.
The satellite, named Kosmos 2499, was launched in 2014, though its launch was undocumented. Since then, it’s drawn attention numerous times. At first, it was identified as a piece of debris called Object E.
But then, this piece of "debris" started maneuvering, leading experts to suggest it was part a test of Russia's low Earth orbit satellites that can "chase down" and even interdict other orbiters.
According to RussianSpaceWeb.com's Anatoly Zak, the U.S. had kept an eye on the thing since it was recognized as a secretly launched satellite, updating data on the covert object three or four times a day.
Analysis of the satellite’s unusual trajectory suggested that it was launched to test a new technology of chasing and even destroying other satellites.
Oleg Ostapenko, the director of Roscosmos at the time, mentioned something similar to the Zak’s speculation.
Whatever the satellite's task was, it has already been demolished into 85 pieces of trackable debris that are now 1,169 km above the Earth's ground, too high for atmospheric drag to carry them away. Experts believe the debris will interfere with other objects in orbit for a hundred years or more.
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