Hollywood celebrities often complain of stalkers shadowing their every move, but what do you do when your stalker is a mysterious Russian satellite?
According to amateur satellite trackers, the Russian probe known as Kosmos 2542, which was launched in November last year, has been orbiting in the same plane as a satellite operated by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) called USA 245, which has been in space since 2013.
The Russian spacecraft is meant to inspect other satellites, and experts in the space community believe it may now be keeping a watchful eye on the secretive US vehicle in a high-altitude spy game, The Verge reported.
The NRO is a military agency that specializes in surveillance and operates a large swath of classified satellites that are thought to spy on places all over the world — so it’s entirely possible USA 245 is doing something the US might want to keep secret, the report said.
The fact that the two satellites are in the same plane isn’t enough to raise alarm though, as the satellites only passed close by each other every 10 days or so.
“[It] is suspicious, but doesn’t prove anything, as there are a lot of different satellites in that plane,” Michael Thompson, a graduate teaching assistant at Purdue University specializing in satellites and astrodynamics, writes in an email to The Verge.
Kosmos 2542 attracted particular attention last week when it performed a series of maneuvers, using its onboard thrusters to get uncomfortably close to USA 245, the report said.
Thompson writes that the Russian satellite has been in constant view of its US target for nearly two weeks now. The two satellites range between 150 to 300 kilometers apart at any given time, which essentially makes them neighbors in the vast area of low Earth orbit, the report said.
It’s not clear what happens next. Chances are probably good no harm is going to come to the US satellite, since Russia claims its probe is just meant for inspection. However, concerns have been raised about what satellites could do to one another in space if they got close enough.
The Defense Department has sounded the alarm about satellites ramming into other satellites, spraying them with chemicals, or shooting them with lasers in order to destroy them. That kind of in-space warfare hasn’t quite happened yet, but it’s certainly on the radar of the US government.