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A mysterious Russian space object could be the return of the ‘satellite killer’

A mysterious Russian space object could be the return of the ‘satellite killer’

An artist’s conception of a Soviet anti-satellite weapon destroying a satellite in 1984. (Defense Department Photo)
An artist’s conception of a Soviet anti-satellite weapon destroying a satellite in 1984. (Defense Department Photo)

There was a time, not too long ago, when some of the world’s brilliant rocket scientists didn’t think of space as something to conquer, nor monetize, nor explore — but as a means to make war. During the Cold War in the 1960s, they eyed outer space as a potential theater of conflict, where human-piloted space vessels would engage in gravity-free dogfights and fire missiles. The ambitions were unrealistic. But they did nonetheless give birth to a Soviet anti-satellite weaponry program simply called “Istrebitel Sputnikov” — the “satellite killer.”

It was thought the killer was retired. It was thought the Soviet empire’s collapse had grounded it. But now, as the Financial Times first reported, there are whispers of its return out there in the blackness of space.

As news of the Virgin Galactic crash, Antares explosion and Rosetta exploration filled science pages, another space drama has quietly unfurled. In May, a Russian rocket launched to add several satellites to its existing constellation. In the process, it deployed what was first believed to be a piece of space debris, but has now become a matter of great speculation. “I have no idea what it is!” space security expert Patricia Lewis of the think-tank Chatham House told The Washington Post in a phone interview.

 

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November 18, 2014


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