Like something out of a James Bond film, news has spread of a mysterious Russian satellite orbiting the world with no known objective, but has been mooted as a possible ‘satellite killer’.
Designated 2014-26E and being followed by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the object was not-so secretly launched last May having been announced (Russian language) by the Russian government.
However, the mystery surrounds the fact that they declared that three satellites had been part of this launch, but an extra fourth appears to be have been included leaving those tracking it, particularly the US, as to what its objectives may be, according to the Financial Times.
The first signs that something was up came after the object began to regulate its own orbit in what would be irregular for a satellite as it would allow them to move itself towards other satellites or space objects.
Since the mystery object entered into Earth’s orbit, it has done just that and begun moving itself to other Russian satellites and objects in space.
Each dot on this Google Earth image represents a satellite, both defunct and current, that circle the Earth. Image via Google Earth/agi
Potential space wars
Of course, there are many non-threatening and mundane, at least as far as space is concerned, possibilities that could answer what it is, including a giant satellite garbage collector of space junk, a repair vehicle for other satellites or even just a piece of space junk itself.
This hasn’t stopped wild speculation however that Russia and its President, Vladimir Putin, is looking to bring warfare to space following on in the footsteps of the Soviet Union who attempted to launch a satellite killer as far back as 1963 with its ‘Istrebitel Sputnikov’ – Russian for satellite killer – design that would attempt to ram American satellites they deemed a threat to the Soviets.
The US has its own, arguably more well-known history with militarising space having attempted, and also failed, to introduce the Star Wars programme under President Ronald Regan which would have put a number of missile-destroying laser satellites in orbit to shoot down nuclear missiles.
Unsurprisingly, Russia remains tight-lipped about what object 2014-28E is doing in Earth’s orbit and will likely remain unknown to all those outside the highest levels of Russia’s high command.
For those interested in following the mysterious object, you can chart its progress as it follows its current orbit online.