A U.S. military general expressed frustration over a recently launched Russian satellite that appears to be stalking a U.S. military satellite in space.
In a recent interview with NBC News, James Dickinson, commander of U.S. Space Command, described the launch of Russian satellite Kosmos 2558 as “irresponsible behavior,” while admitting that the combatant command is tracking the satellite to see if it continues to follow the orbit of its U.S. counterpart. “We see that it’s in a similar orbit to one of our high-value assets for the U.S. government,” Dickinson said. “And so we’ll continue...to update that and track that.”
On August 1, Russia launched Kosmos 2558 into the same orbital plane as a U.S. military satellite designated USA 326. The U.S. satellite had launched in February atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Experts tracking both satellites’ orbit told Gizmodo at the time that they suspect Russia’s satellite is an “inspector” sent out to spy on the U.S. satellite.
Indeed, the Russian satellite was launched at a time that coincided with the U.S. satellite passing over the Russian spaceport Plesetsk, and both satellites’ orbits are just 0.04 degrees apart, according to Marco Langbroek, an astrodynamics lecturer at Delft Technical University in the Netherlands. Ultimately, the Russian satellite might maneuver its way in orbit to get a closer look at the U.S. military satellite, and possibly observe it to suss out its purpose.
This wouldn’t be the first time Russia sent out a spy satellite to stalk U.S. military assets in space. In 2020, a Russian satellite dubbed Kosmos 2542 stalked USA 245, an electro-optical spy satellite in low Earth orbit. It may not be best practice, but it’s not entirely illegal to stalk another satellite’s orbit in space.
That means that while the U.S. government will complain about it, there isn’t much else they can do. We’re watching to see just how close the Russian satellite will get to its U.S. counterpart.