Russian Spy Satellite Luch 2 Exhibits Suspicious Maneuvers

In an alarming development, the Russian inspector satellite Luch 2 continues its pattern of suspicious movements, raising concerns within the space intelligence community. Space tracking firm Slingshot Aerospace has been closely monitoring the satellite, reporting that it has been positioning itself near several communications satellites, hinting at a potential signals intelligence-gathering mission.

Recent Activities and Observations

Luch 2, which has been in orbit for just over a year, executed a significant maneuver on June 23. According to Slingshot’s automated tracking system, this maneuver suggests that the satellite is moving towards an Intelsat communications satellite. Audrey Schaffer, Slingshot’s vice president of strategy and policy, stated, “We have had eyes on Luch 2 since its launch in March 2023, and our machine learning algorithms have predicted its next move.”

Slingshot forecasts that Luch 2’s next target is the Intelsat 1002 communications satellite. “Luch 2 is expected to perform an additional maneuver to stop its drift near Intelsat 1002 on June 28 if it continues its past pattern of behavior,” the company said. This activity mirrors that of its predecessor, Luch Olymp-K-1, known for similar intelligence-gathering activities.

History of Notable Maneuvers

Since its launch, Luch 2 has been notably active, making several significant maneuvers during its first 14 months in orbit. The satellite’s closest approach to date was with Eutelsat’s KA-SAT 9A, coming within approximately 20 kilometers of the communications satellite. Slingshot’s data highlights other close approaches to various European, African, and U.S. communications satellites:

  • EUTE KA SAT 9A (KA SAT): ~20 km
  • EUTELSAT 9B: ~43 km
  • EUTE 3B: ~38 km
  • RASCOM QAF 1R: ~163 km
  • EUTE 3C (HB 10): ~220 km
  • EUTE KONNECT VHTS: ~30 km
  • RASCOM QAF 1R: ~137 km
  • ASTRA 4A (SIRIUS 4): ~45 km
  • SES 5: ~154 km
  • INTELSAT 3-F7: ~228 km

Schaffer emphasized that Luch 2 “has a history of cozying up to communications satellites, and it now appears to be repositioning itself near its next target.”

Implications for Satellite Operators

While Slingshot could not confirm whether Luch 2 can intercept communications routed through the satellites it approaches, the firm’s decision to release this information aims to allow satellite operators to “make informed decisions about their spacecraft.” The continued scrutiny and tracking of Luch 2 are crucial for understanding its objectives and mitigating potential risks to global communications infrastructure.

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