The orbital maneuvers of a mysterious object Russia launched earlier this year have raised concerns that the satellite may be a space weapon of some sort.
The speculation centers on "Object 2014-28E," which Russia lofted along with three military communications satellites in May. The object was originally thought to be space junk, but satellite trackers have watched it perform a number of interesting maneuvers over the past few weeks, the Financial Times reported Monday (Nov. 17).
Last weekend, for example, 2014-28E apparently met up with the remnants of a rocket stage that helped the object reach orbit. [The Most Destructive Space Weapons Concepts]
As a result, some space analysts wonder if Object 2014-28E could be part of an anti-satellite program — perhaps a revived version of the Cold War-era "Istrebitel Sputnikov" ("satellite killer") project, which Russian officials have said was retired when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s.
Military officials have long regarded the ability to destroy or disable another country's satellites as a key national-security capability. The Soviet Union is not the only nation known to have worked on developing such technology; China destroyed one of its own weather satellites in a 2007 test that spawned a huge cloud of orbital debris, and the United Statesblew up one of its own defunct spacecraft in 2008.
The concern about Object 2014-28E is legitimate, said Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. But she cautioned against jumping to conclusions, saying that Russia could have a number of purposes in mind for the technology that 2014-28E may be testing out.
"Any satellite with the capability to maneuver has the potential to be a weapon," Johnson-Freese told Space.com. "But does that mean necessarily that all maneuverable satellites are weapons? No.