Mystery satellite “very troubling”: US officials

According to US officials, a Russian satellite is displaying abnormal behavior - unlike the Soyuz satellite pictured. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

It is a satellite – but one which displays “very abnormal behaviour” with “unclear” intentions. So what exactly have the Russians have launched into orbit?

This is the question posed by officials in the United States after it was revealed there is a satellite in orbit which experts have flagged as suspicious.

Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance Yleem Poblete spoke at a conference on disarmament in Switzerland on Tuesday and said the Russian satellite was unusual.

“[The satellite’s] behaviour on-orbit was inconsistent with anything seen before from on-orbit inspection or space situational awareness capabilities, including other Russian inspection satellite activities,” she said.

The official added that the US had “serious concerns” that Russia was developing anti-satellite weapons.

“We don’t know for certain what it is and there is no way to verify it,” she said.

The comments come as the US push for better security in space. The country last week announced the establishment to the sixth branch of the military, named Space Force. Russia and China were named in the announcement as two nations attempting to “weaponize” space. Poblete spoke along the same theme.

“Russian intentions with respect to this satellite are unclear and are obviously a very troubling development,” she said.

Suspicions surrounding the satellite, which has been in orbit since October last year, have been quickly shot down by the Russians.

Russian senior diplomat Alexander Deyneko told Reuters that the comments were “the same unfounded, slanderous accusations based on suspicions, on suppositions and so on.”

He called on the US to contribute to a Russian-Chinese treaty that seeks to prevent an arms race in space.

Royal United Services Institute research analyst Alexandra Stickings told the BBC that space weapons could be designed to cause damage in more subtle ways than guns or missiles as these methods would create debris in orbit.

“[Such weapons may include] lasers or microwave frequencies that could just stop [a satellite] working for a time, either disable it permanently without destroying it or disrupt it via jamming,” she said.

However, the secretive and classified nature of militaries made it difficult to know what technology is available, Stickings said.

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