Pentagon space chief condemns ‘irresponsible’ launch of Russian inspector satellite (Image Credit: Space.com)
The Pentagon is speaking out against Russia’s launch of a spy satellite believed to be shadowing one of its American counterparts closely in the same orbit.
The Russian satellite, known as Kosmos 2558, launched on Aug. 1 and appears to have been placed in nearly the same orbit as a classified American reconnaissance satellite that launched on Feb. 2. According to Netherlands-based satellite tracker Marco Langbroek, as of Aug. 2 Kosmos 2558 is mirroring the American satellite’s orbit with a difference of just 0.04 degrees (opens in new tab) and a separation of 37 miles (60 kilometers).
“That’s really irresponsible behavior,” said Gen. James H. Dickinson, Commander of U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM) in a report (opens in new tab) released by NBC News. “We see that it’s in a similar orbit to one of our high-value assets for the U.S. government. And so we’ll continue like we always do, to continue to update that and track that,” Dickinson continued.
An NBC News camera crew was allowed inside the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC (opens in new tab)) at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. According to the NBC News report, this is the first time that cameras have been allowed inside the facility. JICSpOC’s mission is to gather and integrate data from a wide variety of satellites and ground-based monitoring stations, and then share that information throughout the U.S. military and intelligence community.
“We have some really good space capabilities today that will tell us almost immediately if there’s been a launch,” an unnamed Space Force officer says in NBC’s report.
Kosmos 2558 is rumored to be a so-called “inspector satellite” capable of maneuvering close to other spacecraft, relatively speaking. Other Russian satellites have been observed in the past displaying the same behaviors.
The mission and capabilities of the American satellite being “stalked” by Kosmos 2558 are not known, but it is believed to be capable of collecting imagery intelligence.
This isn’t the first time that the United States has condemned Russia’s irresponsible activities in orbit. In 2021, Russia fired a missile to destroy one of its own defunct satellites, leaving behind thousands of pieces of trackable orbital debris, some of which prompted the International Space Station to maneuver out of harm’s way.
“Dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of outer space and clearly demonstrates that Russia’s claims of opposing the weapons and weaponization of space are disingenuous and hypocritical,” U.S. Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said at the time.