All you want to know about Russian inspector satellites

On Thursday, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said that the Kosmos 2519 that operated as an inspector spacecraft had burned in the atmosphere.

Russian satellite Kosmos-2519 had served as an inspector satellite and a carrier of inspector satellites.

What are Inspector satellites?

Inspector satellites are spacecraft with inspection capability. An inspector satellite can manoeuvre in space to approach other space objects. Inspections can be carried out like external inspection of objects, refuelling, and repairing satellites. In military terms, the inspector satellites can impact the spacecraft of a potential or actual enemy.

Russian inspector satellites

In the USSR, the development and production of inspector satellites were done by the “Chelomey firm” (Vladimir Chelomey, chief designer of the OKB and plant No. 51). Today it is called the Reutov NPO Mashinostroyenia and is part of the Tactical Missile Armament Corporation.

The Soviet Union had a plan for sending killer and inspector satellites as a part of its ASAT activities. Activities of Russian inspector and killer satellites started emerging in 2013. These satellites were spotted by Pentagon and space enthusiasts. These satellites moved in space, curiously changing orbits and approaching other satellites. 

In 2014, western media started reporting the existence of mysterious Russian satellite, which makes obscure movements in orbit. The object, which entered orbit after the launch of three Russian military communications satellites by the Rokot rocket in May 2014, was initially classified as space debris by NORAD. However, this “piece”, which received the index 2014-28E, suddenly began to make complicated manoeuvres. All summer, the object surprised observers, who suggested that this is some experimental apparatus, possibly for military purposes.

The object 2014-28E did not try to save fuel and performed a variety of manoeuvres all summer. It either rose to almost 1,500 km, then dropped to 925 km, then approached the Breeze-KM (Briz-KM, Russian liquid-propellant rocket orbit insertion upper stage) flying in orbit. 

With the onset of autumn, this bouncy bouncer did not calm down. The Americans reclassified the object from “trash” to “payload”. And on October 21, British space expert Robert Christie said that Russia was testing a “military inspector satellite” that was catalogued as “Kosmos-2499” (since the Rokot rocket officially launched satellites numbered 2496, 2497, 2498). On December 23, 2013, Christie noted that three communications satellites were also launched, but later Russia registered four spacecraft, including the small satellite Kosmos-2491.

The intrigue was not the object was manoeuvring, and not even that there is no official information about them. The main focus was the object’s diminutiveness and the ability to such active manoeuvres. Experts suggested that that Russians were testing new engines. If there are engines of the type, then anything can be installed on the satellite.

Attempt to approach a U.S. spy satellite USA 245

In January 2020, a Russian satellite inspector Kosmos-2543 tried to get close to the U.S. reconnaissance spacecraft USA 245, but the latter made a manoeuvre to get away from the approaching satellite. 

The USA 245, also known as KH-11, reportedly made a series of manoeuvres to get as far away as possible from the Kosmos-2543 satellite that followed it.

The Russian inspector satellite tried to approach the American satellite on February 7-10. 

The closest approach was carried out on January 20-21 when the Russian satellite tried to synchronize the speed and orbit with the American spacecraft. According to the MIT Technology Review, the distance between the devices was 150 km. This fact has caused serious concern in the U.S. intelligence services.

In November 2019, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced the launch of the Kosmos-2542 spacecraft into orbit based on a unified multifunctional space platform. Kosmos-2542 was tasked to monitor the condition of satellites in orbit.

After entering orbit, a small satellite, ‘Kosmos-2543′, separated from it, the task was to assess domestic satellites’ technical condition.

As per the American’s, the Russian spacecraft entered the same orbit as the U.S. National Aerospace Intelligence Agency’s USA 245 reconnaissance satellite, which was launched in 2013.

American experts believe that the rapprochement of a Russian satellite with an American reconnaissance vehicle may indicate that it is trying to conduct its external inspection and technical diagnostics from the shortest possible distance and, if possible, read the transmitted information from its onboard equipment. In addition, experts do not exclude the possibility of “jamming” the U.S. spy satellite by the onboard systems of the Russian satellite.

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