A mysterious space object launched by the Russian military has ignited concerns the nation has revived an old plan to destroy satellites.
Object 2014-28E was first spotted a few weeks ago by amateur astronomers. It was originally believed to be space debris, sent into space by Russia in May to add communication satellites to existing military apparatus.
However, its purpose is unknown and it has undertaken several unusual manoeuvres, guiding towards other Russian space objects, the Financial Times reports. Last week, Object 2014-28E was reconnected with the remains of the rocket stage that had launched it.
The US military is now tracking the object, with further interest added because Russia never declared its launch. The active and unusual movements have also raised questions over its purpose.
Patricia Lewis, research director at think-tank Chatham House, told the newspaper: "Whatever it is, [Object 2014-28E] looks experimental. It could have a number of functions, some civilian and some military.
"One possibility is for some kind of grabber bar. Another would be kinetic pellets which shoot out at another satellite. Or possibly there could be a satellite-to-satellite cyber attack or jamming."
Russia cancelled its "satellite killer" programme in the late 1980s but anti-satellite technology never really went away, with programmes in development in the US, China and Israel. In 2010, the head of Russia's space agency said the country was looking to develop its inspection and strike satellites.
The Russian military is yet to comment on the object.
However, it was recently reported the Russian space agency is considering building a high-altitude orbital space station from 2017, which would rival the International Space Station.
Russia Today said this could mean Moscow leaves the ISS after 2020, once its obligations are fulfilled. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin also said earlier this year: "There are rumours about Russia leaving the ISS project. We will not, the program is set to run until 2020 and we will stick to our international obligations. As for prolonging it till 2024 – that's what we're really doubtful of."
Commenting on the latest plans, Denis Lyskov, the federal space agency's official secretary, told the Itar-TASS news agency: "We're considering a number of options."