Two Russian satellites — one thought defunct — have been tracked in rendezvous maneuvers

The American commercial satellite tracking company has over the past two years identified two Russian satellites — one thought defunct — that have rendezvoused and done proximity maneuvers.

Resurs-P3 — a Russian Earth observation satellite — performed a large maneuver in November 2022 after years of inactivity, and approached the Russian military satellite Cosmos-2562, according to a LeoLabs briefing.

The maneuver by Resurs-P3 “placed it in an entirely new orbit shared by Russian assets with non-publicly disclosed payloads,” said the briefing. “Based on the approaches observed by LeoLabs, it’s highly likely that Cosmos-2562 has an electro-optical payload and has collected high-resolution imagery of Resurs-P3.”

This new data further documents the long-term classified Russian effort to develop such satellite maneuvering capability, both to track and inspect its own satellites as well as do the same to the satellites of others. The unstated capability also includes the ability to destroy a satellite also, once rendezvous is achieved.

How private enterprise is solving the vulnerability of satellites to military attack

Link here. The essay provides a nice overview of the U.S. military’s present conundrum on protecting all American satellites in orbit, not just military ones, and what it is beginning to do to solve it, now that the Space Force exists.

The approach is following three paths, with only the last two having any hope of success. First, the Biden administration is trying diplomacy to convince space-faring nations to ban future anti-satellite tests. This approach has really little chance of success.

The other two avenues involve innovations from private enterprise, launching many small satellites as part of a large constellation and in-orbit servicing, repair, and refueling. The first creates redundancy, making it difficult for any enemy power to easily destroy U.S. assets. The second provides capabilities for both fixing important satellites as well as attacking our enemy’s without causing space junk. Both will become common in the coming years, and thus will become very viable tools for military use.

ISS to maneuver around space junk leftover from Chinese anti-satellite test

Russian engineers will today fire engines on a Progress freighter docked to ISS to guarantee that a piece of debris left over from a 2007 Chinese military anti-satellite test does not hit the station.

The object the space station will dodge is called 35114 in NASA’s catalog of space objects, and is also identified at 1999-025DKS, a piece of debris from a Chinese anti-satellite weapons test in 2007. Originally part of a Chinese weather satellite, the debris resulted from an in-orbit missile test performed by China. As part of that test, a kinetic-energy, suborbital missile was fired at a defunct Chinese weather satellite called Fengyun-1C (which stopped working in 2002), obliterating it into thousands of pieces.

The destroyed satellite was originally in a much higher orbit, but atmospheric drag has pulled the debris closer to Earth over the years and ultimately into the flight path of the space station. The two objects’ closest approach is estimated to occur on Nov. 12, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at Harvard who tracks and catalogs objects in space. McDowell tweeted on Tuesday that his calculations show that this will be the 29th space station debris avoidance maneuver, and the third related to the 2007 Chinese anti-satellite test.

The maneuver will take place prior to the arrival of Endurance, carrying four astronauts.

While the anti-sat test initially produced about 3,500 pieces of debris, that number has dropped in the past fourteen years to about 2,700 pieces as the orbits of these objects slowly decay. The test was also another example of China’s willingness to break the Outer Space Treaty. As a signatory China is required to control every object it puts into orbit in order to prevent collisions. Instead, it performed a military test that created debris in the thousands, in orbits that threaten ISS.

We shall get another demonstration of China’s contempt for treaties in the next few months, when it launches two more large modules to its space station and the large core stage of the rocket comes crashing down somewhere on Earth, out of control.

The anti-satellite missile the Soviet Union designed for one of its early space stations

Link here. Apparently a prototype was actually flown in 1975 on the second successful Soviet space station, Salyut 3, a military mission. A more sophisticated version was never flown when the Soviet’s cancelled their military space station program. However, its design was most fascinating:

[L]ittle is known about the specifications and operation of the system, but, according to the Head of Science and Research Center at NPO Mashinostroenia Leonard Smirichevsky, who introduced the weapon, the vehicle’s grenade-like solid propellant charges doubled as engines!’s 3D recreation of the displayed variant established that it held 96 casings with solid propellant arranged in a globular fashion like the petals of a dandelion around a central combustion chamber. Upon their ignition, the chambers/grenades might have fed hot propulsive gas into a single or multiple combustion chambers at the center of the contraption, producing either the main thrust and/or steering the vehicle. When the missile reached the proximity of the target, according to its guiding radar, the entire vehicle would explode and the small solid chambers would eject under their own propulsive force in every direction acting as shrapnel.

The missile had a flight range of about 70 miles, and was designed to destroy any hostile satellite or spacecraft that approached the military station.

China preparing for anti-satellite test?

According to Pentagon officials China is preparing for a flight test of a new anti-satellite rocket.

Test preparations for the Dong Neng-3 anti-satellite missile were detected at a military facility in central China, according to Pentagon officials familiar with reports of the impending test. Intelligence agencies were alerted to the impending test by China’s announcement of air closure zones covering the expected flight path of the DN-3.

The flight test could come as early as Thursday, the officials said. No other details of the missile test were available. A Pentagon spokesman and a State Department official both said, “We do not comment on intelligence matters.”

One additional detail: The DN-3 rocket appears to be based on the Chinese commercial rocket Kuiazhou, which a Chinese launch company is pitching to the international market as a vehicle for putting smallsats into orbit.