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Space The Military

A Mysterious Piece of Russian Space Junk Does Maneuvers 146

schwit1 writes What was first thought to be a piece of debris left over from the launch of three Russian military communication satellites has turned out to be a fourth satellite capable of maneuvers: "The three satellites were designated Kosmos-2496, -2497, -2498. However, as in the previous launch on December 25, 2013, the fourth unidentified object was detected orbiting the Earth a few kilometers away from 'routine' Rodnik satellites. Moreover, an analysis of orbital elements from a US radar by observers showed that the 'ghost' spacecraft had made a maneuver between May 29 and May 31, 2014, despite being identified as 'debris' (or Object 2014-028E) in the official U.S. catalog at the time. On June 24, the mysterious spacecraft started maneuvering again, lowering its perigee (lowest point) by four kilometers and lifting its apogee by 3.5 kilometers. Object E then continued its relentless maneuvers in July and its perigee was lowered sharply, bringing it suspiciously close to the Briz upper stage, which had originally delivered all four payloads into orbit in May."

This is the second time a Russian piece of orbital junk has suddenly started to do maneuvers. The first time, in early 2014, the Russians finally admitted five months after launch that the "junk" was actually a satellite. In both cases, the Russians have not told anyone what these satellites are designed to do, though based on the second satellite's maneuvers as well as its small size (about a foot in diameter) it is likely they are testing new cubesat capabilities, as most cubesats do not have the ability to do these kinds of orbital maneuvers. Once you have that capability, you can then apply it to cubesats with any kind of purpose, from military anti-satellite technology to commercial applications.
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A Mysterious Piece of Russian Space Junk Does Maneuvers

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  • by 50000BTU_barbecue ( 588132 ) on Saturday November 01, 2014 @12:52PM (#48287925) Homepage Journal

    It's pretty crowded up there, can we still afford to play "1965 Cold War" in 2014?

    • by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Saturday November 01, 2014 @01:05PM (#48287995)

      Take a sailboat out in the South Pacific sea, get 500 miles from any port, and tell me how crowded the ocean surface (a 2D structure) feels.

      The only thing that's crowded about space is the delta-V, there's plenty of room, but you really want that when relative velocities can be > 1 km/sec.

      • Orbits are actually 1D structures.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Actually, the orbits are 4-dimensional trajectories of various structures. In orthonormal basis, the spatial dimensions are usually referred as x, y and z, and the t is known as 'time'.

          • by cyn1c77 ( 928549 )

            Actually, the orbits are 4-dimensional trajectories of various structures. In orthonormal basis, the spatial dimensions are usually referred as x, y and z, and the t is known as 'time'.

            The GP's point was that satellite orbits are elliptical and thus can be specified with less than four dimensions.

        • Orbits are actually 1D structures.

          I find myself curious - what one dimension do you think describes any particular orbit?

          Off the top of my head, I can't think of a way to describe an orbit that doesn't include (as a minimum) a mass (properly, two masses, but for satellite orbits in particular, the mass of the satellite is trivial compared to the mass of the primary, and can be ignored), a position vector, a velocity vector, and a time that those three values were valid....

          • We're not talking about any particular orbit, we're talking about communication satellites in GEO. It's a straight line mapped on a sphere close to its equator.
            Each useful GEO orbit is a line on that sphere. A line is 1D. It's crowded.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
            "Satellites in geostationary orbit must all occupy a single ring above the Equator."

            • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

              No it's not. there are HUGE GAPS in the Geosync orbit. if there was something every 6 arc seconds, then I'd agree with you, but there's not. and honestly a lot of really old crap up there needs to be deorbited and replaced. The problem is all the companies are pulling "profits are the utmost mission" bullshit and not advancing communications like they should be.

            • It's a straight line mapped on a sphere close to its equator....A line is 1D

              Yes but the sphere is spinning on it's axis and orbiting a point between itself and the moon. That earth-moon-satellite system orbits the sun, which in turn orbits the center of the milky way, which itself is dancing with andromeda. So you see, the actual line is more like a noodly appendage than a stick of raw spaghetti, it can only be described in 3 spacial dimensions + 1 time dimension.

              • by pellik ( 193063 )
                Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving
                And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour
                That's orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it's reckoned
                A sun that is the source of all our power

                The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
                Are moving at a million miles a day
                In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour
                Of the galaxy we call the 'milky way'

                Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars It's a hundred thousand light years side to side It bulges in
            • Firstly that so called little line is over 200,000 kilometers long. Secondly it ISN'T a straight line, there is a relatively large various (these objects are all farely small and a line "close" to the equator leaves a very large amount of space for them to play in. The ocean is thousands of times more crowded, go out in the middle of the ocean, you will be lucky to even see another boat let alone be at a huge risk of a collision.

          • by Anonymous Coward
            Orbit (without taking into account all non gravitational effects) are straight lines in space-time curved by mass. Straight lines are 1D structure, even in non euclidean geometry.
          • by Sun ( 104778 )

            GP assumes that the Earth's mass is the Earth's mass (i.e. - an orbital around Earth). I am not aware of any affect the mass of the satellite has on its trajectory, so I'm not sure why you included it.

            Which leaves us, in your analysis, three parameters. Vector of position, vector of velocity, and a time scalar. Let's call it a trajectory triplet. This results in 7D trajectory space. Those three are not, however, orthogonal (or even linearly independent).

            Just as an isolated example, take a certain satellite

            • by Sun ( 104778 )

              On reflection, I need to cut down a dimension from my calculation as well.

              The minimal and maximal heights can be replaced by the speed (scalar) of the satellite when crossing the equator.

              So 5D at most.

              Shachar

            • for a satellite doing a perfect circle

              A satellite "doing a perfect circle" is an imaginary satellite.

              I'm not an astrophysics guy either, but my two vectors and one scalar (plus mass(es) of primary (and satellite)) is something I took from an old astrophysics textbook I still have laying around.

              Just as an isolated example, take a certain satellite triplet. Then take that same satellite's triplet a few seconds later. None of the values of the triplet are the same, and yet it obviously describes the same tra

        • I'm pretty sure that ANY orbit around one body is going to be a conic section.

    • by Savage-Rabbit ( 308260 ) on Saturday November 01, 2014 @01:36PM (#48288109)

      It's pretty crowded up there, can we still afford to play "1965 Cold War" in 2014?

      People like you are the personification of what's wrong with America today! While you latte slurping liberal intellectuals are debating history down here, the capability gap is widening, the Russians are winning the maneuverable space junk race. What we should be doing is get some maneuverable junk of our own so send your old VHS players, Pentium PCs, CRT monitors, ... to NASA so they can bolt thrusters to our old junk and and fire it into orbit by the meteric ton. I say, let's teach those commie pinko Russki bastards a lesson!

      • by Anonymous Coward

        General Turgidson, sir, please login with your real name, sir!

      • by Anonymous Coward

        We cannot allow... a maneuverable space junk gap!
        -Gen. 'Buck' Turgidson

      • by sphealey ( 2855 )

        I'm not sure why Ars Technica took their well-written article about the Soviet decision to build the Buran off-line, but IIRC that was essentially the logic the Soviets were following at the time. All their calculations told them the Space Shuttle was a loser, but the Americans were building one so surely they must know something we don't.... 20 billion rubles down the drain.

        sPh

    • The the NSA is waging a cold war on every nation on the planet. But trolls here are of course more concerned with the russian and chinese boogiemen.
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      A cascade up there would be quite nice, in a few thousand years it would flatten to a very pretty set of rings arond the planet.

      • There's nowhere near the mass required to create visible rings. We'd need to break up a decent size asteroid, say a few trillion tonnes, just to get wispy crap like the rings around Uranus.

        [Saturn's rings mass about 30,000 times more than that. If they were collected into a single object, would make a medium sized moon or very large asteroid, about 400km wide.]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Object E then continued its relentless maneuvers in July and its perigee was lowered sharply, bringing it suspiciously close to the Briz upper stage, which had originally delivered all four payloads into orbit in May."

    That's is very worrisome. The nerve of the Russians controlling their satellite that pretended to be a piece of junk to incessantly and oppressively maneuver around in space without telling us first! Well, I never!

  • .... we'll need to call the Space Cowboys out of retirement.

  • by Bob_Who ( 926234 ) <Bob@wh o . n et> on Saturday November 01, 2014 @01:27PM (#48288075) Homepage Journal
    In post soviet space race, space debris spies on you!
  • by aaaaaaargh! ( 1150173 ) on Saturday November 01, 2014 @01:29PM (#48288079)

    It could be a spy satellite and space junk at the same time. Perhaps the Russians like irony.

  • Get it down now. Then you can claim you were testing technology to remove space junk from orbit. Once the Ruskies admit it's a satellite that's no longer a valid option.
    • Even if it were space junk, that would still be a violation of the Outer Space Treaty and probably an act of war.

  • by amjohns ( 29330 ) on Saturday November 01, 2014 @02:03PM (#48288215)

    Why else wouldn't you announce it? Especially if it's the size of a cubesat but can manuever, that's a breakthrough.

    At least the US admits the X-37B is there, even if nobody has a clue what it's doing...

    • The US can't disguise the X-37B as space junk anymore than they can disguise a battleship as a fishing boat. The military of any nation will only tell you two things; 1) what they want you to believe and 2) what you already know.
  • They used to launch satellites and then call them debries or test missions or something like this if they aren't behave well from Soviet times. It could be one of these satellites which responded in some limited way after launch, but guys at the mission control still tweaking with it.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      It doesn't have to be that the satellite fails for it to look like or be called debris. The US has done similar things before; some people think that the Misty program (which is positively known to have included satellite camouflage research) involved faking a satellite explosion and cutting the radar cross-section of the actual satellite with sleight of hand so that it seemed to be part of a "debris" field from the explosion. See http://www.nbcnews.com/id/3077830/ns/technology_and_science-space/t/spy-sat [nbcnews.com]

      • by umghhh ( 965931 )
        I think it is Putin's dick out there and CIA says it is small. Now I know what all the quzillions of tallars or whatever they call the funny money of today are going into. I also know now that our dicks are bigger than Russian, whatever interpretation of this sentence you take it must be correct!
  • I know! We should help clean up space junk by blowing it up and launching it out of orbit with a laser or catching it with a giant net or any of the other proposed junk cleanup methods. If they want to call it junk, that's the space equivalent of leaving it on the curb. Now it's public domain for the snatching!
    • I know! We should help clean up space junk by blowing it up

      That's not how "cleaning" works.

      or catching it with a giant net

      That's not how "nets" work.

      If they want to call it junk, that's the space equivalent of leaving it on the curb. Now it's public domain for the snatching!

      That's not how international law works.

  • It's a Russian X-37B equivalent. The Americans used the X-37B to plant jammers and/or deorbit drives on the GLONASS constellation, and the Russians are returning the favor ;-)

  • The Russians lifted this idea from Han Solo in ESB - just hiding out in the Imperial Destroyer's garbage dump. If Boba Fett can see through that ploy, so can the US.
  • It's not like the US hasn't got their secret crap up there... So it's ver hypcritical to judge the russians...

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