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2 Russian satellites are stalking a US spysat in orbit. The Space Force is watching.

A Russian Soyuz 2.1v rocket launches a classified military satellite into orbit from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russian on Nov. 25, 2019. The satellite can apparently track other satellites in orbit.
A Russian Soyuz 2.1v rocket launches a classified military satellite into orbit from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russian on Nov. 25, 2019. The satellite can apparently track other satellites in orbit. (Image credit: Roscosmos)

A U.S. spy satellite is being trailed by two Russian satellites, according to the commander of the U.S. Space Force

Yesterday (Feb. 10), Gen. John "Jay" Raymond, the Space Force chief of space operations, revealed to Time magazine that a pair of Russian satellites have come extremely close, within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the U.S. spy satellite. 

"We view this behavior as unusual and disturbing," Raymond told Time magazine (opens in new tab). "It has the potential to create a dangerous situation in space." 

Raymond said that the U.S. government has reached out to Moscow about the close range of the satellites, expressing concern "through diplomatic channels." 

Video: Watch Russia launch the two mysterious satellites (opens in new tab)
More: 
Declassified US Spy Satellite Photos & Designs (opens in new tab)

The Russian spacecraft launched in November as one satellite, which later released a second satellite from within it, almost "birthing" it, U.S. military analysts said. According to the Russian news agency TASS (opens in new tab), this maneuver was meant to test the "technical condition of domestic satellites."

In an interview with Business Insider (opens in new tab), Raymond said the two satellites have been behaving similarly to what are known as "inspector satellites" from Russia. "In any other domain," such a move "would be interpreted as potentially threatening behavior," he told Business Insider.

Related: The most dangerous space weapons concepts ever

The Russian satellites were first spotted by Michael Thompson, a satellite and spacecraft enthusiast who tweeted about the observations. 

"Something to potentially watch: Cosmos 2542, a Russian inspection satellite, has recently synchronized its orbit with USA 245, an NRO KH11," Thompson tweeted.

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"This is all circumstantial evidence, but there are a hell of a lot of circumstances that make it look like a known Russian inspection satellite is currently inspecting a known U.S. spy satellite," Thompson tweeted on Jan. 30 (opens in new tab).

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This is the first time that the U.S. military has publicly revealed a direct threat from another country to a U.S. satellite. Identifying and rectifying such concerns was a huge reason behind the Space Force. As more and more satellites are launched with increased capabilities to gather information from space, more opportunities are created for interference from these satellites. 

Space Force, the new U.S. military branch, which will receive $15.4 billion as part of the Trump administration's 2021 budget proposal, will be a "technology-focused service," according to Raymond, Space Force's first official leader. The branch aims to protect the interests of the U.S. in space, which will include mitigating aggressive acts and interference in American progress. 

Ongoing efforts by both Russia and China to advance their space programs has factored into the establishment of the Space Force. Now, while the Space Force continues to investigate the two Russian satellites, political tensions between the two nations remain high over accusations of Russian interference in the U.S. electoral system. 

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Chelsea Gohd joined Space.com as an intern in the summer of 2018 and returned as a Staff Writer in 2019. After receiving a B.S. in Public Health, she worked as a science communicator at the American Museum of Natural History. Chelsea has written for publications including Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine, Live Science, All That is Interesting, AMNH Microbe Mondays blog, The Daily Targum and Roaring Earth. When not writing, reading or following the latest space and science discoveries, Chelsea is writing music, singing, playing guitar and performing with her band Foxanne (@foxannemusic). You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. 

  • BeyondKona
    This is same cold war nonsense the Russian Navy and US Navy engage in by playing chicken with ships and lives, except its in space. Considering the global climate crisis in which the primary fossil fuelish offenders are Russia, China, and the US, you'd expect they would (all together) have higher security priorities than spying on each other, like cooperating or competing or both in the global transition to a clean and sustainable energy economy. Either way, thermal nuclear war or global heating will both destroy the planet's habitability.
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