Russia has reportedly reactivated three mysterious satellites, which remained idle over the past year or so, after they were launched into space between 2013 and 2015. After their initial launch, the three satellites reportedly shifted their orbits dramatically, exhibiting an unusual ability of manoeuvrability for small spacecraft. Although the US military as well as other space experts have been tracking the three spacecraft, their mission and/or function still remains a mystery.
The trio of satellites, reportedly known by their codenames Kosmos-2491, Kosmos-2499 and Kosmos-2504 remained inactive for over a year. However, now two of them are once again on the move. The Daily Beast reported that on 20 April, 2017, one of the mystery satellites, the Kosmos-2504, veered off course and zoomed within 1,200 metres of a now defunct Chinese weather satellite, which was dismantled in 2007, during a controversial test of China's anti-satellite missile.
The Daily Beast cited experts as suggesting that the three spacecraft could be technology demonstrators or even precursors to orbital weapons.
Kosmos satellite trio could be inspection satellites
Russia allegedly took pains to ensure that at least one of its mysterious satellites was launched under the radar. The Kosmos-2491was reportedly launched aboard a single rocket which was also carrying three communications satellites. Although Moscow announced the launch of the three communications satellites in advance, they refrained from doing so for the Kosmos-2491. The satellite was later spotted by spacewatchers, who first mistook it for space debris.
Between 2014 and 2016, the three Russian satellites reportedly spent periods of time moving closer to the rockets that originally delivered them to space, flying as close as a dozen feet to the old booster shells. Experts suggest that this behaviour could indicate that the trio could be inspection satellites.
Anatoly Zak an independent expert on Russian spacecraft told The Daily Beast that the three satellites could share similarities in performance and dimensions to a known Russian inspection satellite called Yubileiny. "You can probably equip them with lasers, maybe put some explosives on them," Zak said of the Kosmos trio. "If [one] comes very close to some military satellite, it probably can do some harm."
However, experts have also cautioned against assumptions of the satellites potentially being weaponised. "In most cases, it's far easier to jam a satellite's communications or hit it with a missile than try and do some sort of destructive co-orbital rendezvous," Weeden told The Daily Beast. "The capability to do rendezvous and proximity operations has a whole bunch of applications - civil, commercial and military," Brian Weeden, a space expert at the Secure World Foundation told The Daily Beast.