Russia shrugs off US anxiety over military satellite

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An Intelsat satellite: Two like these were approached by a Russian military satellite

A Russian military satellite which parked itself between two US Intelsat satellites did not put them at risk, a Russian space expert says.

Ivan Moiseyev, head of Russia’s Space Policy Institute, said he understood US concerns about the Luch relay satellite’s manoeuvres.

“But the possibility of a collision or some kind of interference is extremely small,” he was quoted as saying.

Intelsat said it had tried and failed to contact the satellite’s operator.

“Despite direct and indirect inquiries by the appropriate regulatory bodies and governmental agencies, the operator of the other satellite was unresponsive,” it said in a statement to the BBC.

Intelsat General Corp. operates about 50 satellites, some of which are used by the US military, including for drone missions and communications with “remote military outposts”.

‘Low risk’

According to Mr Moiseyev, “there were no violations in this case”.

The Luch, he said, “is simply a relay satellite, sending signals from spacecraft to Earth, for example from the International Space Station (ISS) – we have communications problems there – and from one satellite to another”.

“In no way can it be an ‘aggressor’,” Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency quoted him as saying. “Any satellite can make some clumsy manoeuvres – but collisions are extremely rare.”

Mr Moiseyev said there had been just one previous incident when an old Russian satellite and a US satellite had collided by accident.

The Space Policy Institute – set up by government bodies in 1993 – is described on its website as an “independent research organisation”.

A US space expert, Brian Weeden, tracked the Luch satellite and said it moved to a position in June where there were no other Russian satellites, but which put it “right in between two operational Intelsat satellites… where it remained until mid-September”.

At one point it came within 10km (six miles) of one of those satellites, which is very close in space terms.

Then the Luch began drifting again, Mr Weeden reported in an article in The Space Review.

He said the Luch was not registered with the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs and “there is also a lot of uncertainty about the mission”.

What’s it doing?

 

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