Now, this was was sent to me by so many people it would be impossible to thank you all by initials, so a "general thank you" will have to do. This is one of "those stories" that really gets my trademark high octane speculationTM going. The Russians, apparently (and we'll get back to that "apparently" part of the story in a moment), have put up a satellite, and it's doing strange things, like, (apparently, and again, we'll get back to that "apparently" in a moment) not staying in one orbit:

Mystery Russian satellite's behaviour raises alarm in US

US raises questions over 'abnormal' Russian satellite in row over space arms race

Remarks on Recent Russian Space Activities of Concern

I want to focus on the third of these articles, the remarks of Yleem D. S. Poblete on August 14, 2018, at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, and specifically, on these passages:

Mr. President, in October of last year the Russian Ministry of Defense deployed a space object they claimed was a “space apparatus inspector.” But its behavior on-orbit was inconsistent with anything seen before from on-orbit inspection or space situational awareness capabilities, including other Russian inspection satellite activities. We are concerned with what appears to be very abnormal behavior by a declared “space apparatus inspector.” We don’t know for certain what it is and there is no way to verify it. But Russian intentions with respect to this satellite are unclear and are obviously a very troubling development – particularly, when considered in concert with statements by Russia’s Space Force Commander who highlighted that “assimilate[ing] new prototypes of weapons [into] Space Forces’ military units” is a “main task facing the Aerospace Forces Space Troops.”

Now I can tell you that our Russian colleagues will deny that its systems are meant to be hostile. The Russian Ministry of Defense has put out a press release stating these are simply inspector satellites.

So the question before this body is: how do we verify what countries say their spacecraft are doing? What would be enough information to prove what the purpose of an object is? We have pointed out Russian satellite behavior that is inconsistent with what Russia claims it is – a so-called inspector satellite not acting in a manner consistent with a satellite designed to conduct safe and responsible inspection operations.

But it is difficult to determine an object’s true purpose simply by observing it on orbit – unlike inspection for a traditional arms control agreement. Based on the drafting of the treaty language by Russia, there is nothing in the proposed PPWT that would prohibit this sort of activity or the developing, testing, or stockpiling of anti-satellite weapons capabilities, so long as it doesn’t damage another object in space.

The only certainty we have is that this system has been “placed in orbit.” The rest of its demonstrated behavior is unexpected and unclear to us. (Emphasis added)

There's so much uncertainty and ambiguity in these statements that it is difficult to parse these words and indulge in our daily high octane speculation. But there are a few general logical possibilities that immediately emerge:

1) The satellite is not Russian at all, and somebody wishes to make it appear that it is: I suspect we may discount this, since the context of Ms. Poblete's remarks seem to indicate that in this respect, at least, the U.S. government is fairly certain of its origins;

2) The object is Russian, but not necessarily a satellite in the conventional sense: Much of the context of Ms. Poblete's remarks, and the speculations entertained by the other two articles, focus on the possibility that the object is some sort of weapons platform, i.e., a conventional satellite launched into orbit, carrying weapons. But that it may not be a satellite in the conventional sense is evident from the statements that its "demonstrated behavior is unexpected and unclear to us," and this marvelous and glittering generality provokes all sorts of questions: exactly what demonstrated behavior is being referred to? My first guess would be that the object is maneuvering and changing orbits dramatically, from both shape, orbit type, and altitude, and that it has been doing so fairly consistently since its launch. It's that "consistency" factor which may have them worried, for there are satellites that have a limited ability to do this and they've been around for a while, but that capability is limited by the amount of fuel such maneuvering consumes; the more maneuvers, the more fuel is consumed, and the less room and ability to maneuver in the future there is. Consistent and prolonged maneuvering would indicate either a nuclear fuel, or some other more exotic means of propulsion. Nuclear propulsion would be relatively easy for the USA (or anyone else with "stuff" up there, the U.K., France, India, Germany, Japan... all the "usual suspects") to detect.

There is yet another possibility as well: what if this object is not a satellite, but a returnable orbital platform much like the US Air Force's unmanned "space shuttle-drone," which can be launched conventionally, obtain orbit, change orbits, and then land once again? If the USA can do it (and it has), then it's a sure bet that Russia can, and not only that it can, but that it would do so if for no other reason than to send the message "We've got it too."

But again, while that may elicit some concern from the US government, it's unlikely that it would have summoned the degree of concern that seems to be implied here. After all, if the last possibility were the case, then it simply means the Russians have achieved "parity."

Something about this new "Sputnik" has the spooks spooked, and my best guess at the present is precisely that it may be performing maneuvers of a complex, and "fuel consuming" nature, such that it may be indicative of a very different type of propulsion system and one that perhaps may not be nuclear.

If so, then as the expression has it, the defecation may have just hit the rotary oscillating motor with medium-driving blades, and may explain why there's been so much hype lately about "space forces" both from Washington and from Moscow.

See you on the flip side...




  1. As a space neophyte, it might be useful for people like me if a “best evidence” post could be developed that would cite points of evidence that tend to support the existence of covert space programs and which nations have which capabilities. There is missing money, there are affadavits, there are suggestive but documentation-free McKinnon type incidents. But where is there evidence that supports the whole notion?

  2. . . . To be or not to be; a traditionally defined satellite in a fixed geosynchronous orbit / geostationary orbit. . . Unless its inertia was acted upon by an exotic non-standard propulsion system (or Not) that still shares a top-secret caveat of need-to-know. . . Definitely a defining moment for unusual motions and motives in near orbit. . .

    . . . What that space thing of purported Russian design is assumed to be up to is suggestive in that this hullabaloo over yet more space junk arrives on nearly the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (1968 – 2018). . .

    . . . One is not sure of the flash-point of your “high-octane speculation.” . . Probably positioned in that “you-tell-me” category. . . But there’s more than just another space-faring nation’s clunky-junky satellite to ponder. . . That proof now, . . . Well, . . . . when confronted with superior stealth, one is usually relegated to a lower position of the fool almost automatically with soon to be prepositioned-canned-rants against anything one says, that is, having said anything of consequence, because the others identification and stealth is far noisier and deceptively superior. . . Even if not convincing than the most creative babble one can come up with to explain circumstances that are just short of unrefutable proofs falling out of one’s pockets, they’re ready to pounce, manipulate, and, of course, discourage, anyway. . . Not allowed another words. . .

    . . .At any rate, these additional space faring entities might be terrestrially bound nation states, even with one’s effort of sending a facsimile of a motor vehicle as a flagship into orbit, yet each presents looming questions about further space occupation as a potential military and, especially, commercial race that has shown signs of becoming very busy. . . That it includes military supported nation states as well as private enterprises very similar to what one notes is at issue, is no longer very new news . .

    . . . Space, that final frontier, remains an unknown country in many ways just as Antarctica is more mystery than well plotted geodesic land plots. . . Just think, one will have to get better acquainted with cubic measures of volume as well as spherical or polygonal volume spaced building permits with views all round one’s cubic plot of space. . . No snow shoveling or grass cutting unless you build it into that near weightless environment unless one is very adept at terraforming planets in orbital habitable zones of star systems. . .

    . . . Hardly concerned or spooked about building in space or sending inspector satellites into low orbits or about their suppositions about what they know-not-what . . . There’s plenty of room. . . Besides, they make good targeting practice for observing and positioning ground-based units as well as those already in orbit, but not expressly and officially designated. . . It’s the navigation of space, near weightlessness, gravimetric effects, and inherent space-weather that has one concerned at this point. . . If anything, other folks acknowledge something else in space. . . That’s a good thing, actually. . . Now, if that type of space monitoring could be finely tuned and well expanded into deep space, for say, very big rocks with an action plan attached, even for mapping celestial and stellar items, one would be praising such an accounting of something instead of playing it up to be some idiot with money gone rogue with a launch just because they could. . . Enough with the bogeyman personifications – Stick with the real “McCoy’s” that are known to be formidable and destructive. . .

  3. What amazed me about this news story was all the implicit talk of space-based laser death ray platforms(tm) being actually real. I thought that was science fiction but nope … if you read between the lines, it seems that they are a real thing. Huh … so much for all those “we mustn’t weaponise space treaties”, I suppose. But does this all give us the actual truth that there are space based platforms which can zap anything on the ground from space? … possibly.

    And, as for those wildfires that people have been talking about, and I’ve been ignoring because they’re only fires … maybe the two could be connected after all?

    Your guess is as good as mine.

    See thee on the flip side!!!

    ps I read a few days ago some article or other about something or other … and what leapt out at me was some bloke … of some kind … was talking about how Iran is the superpower in the Middle East. Huh … I thought that was old Israel with its enormous arsenal of nuclear weapons. Well I never. And yes, the coffee did fly all over my monitor when I read this. People are so … stupid … or just creeps. Or maybe just stupid creeps … or creepy stupids?? I don’t know anymore. Still … isn’t Trump doing a great job 🙂

  4. Go back to the mid-sixties of the last century to the Dick Tracy comic strip that ran in newspapers nationwide. In it Tracy goes to the Moon Pr-Apollo 8-11 in a craft that looks like a horizontal hot water heater when it flies. If this satellite is using a non chemical rocket propulsion that might be what driving the USSA up the wall.

    1. Being a paperboy back then, Marcus, I remember that spacecraft depicted in the Dick Tracy comic strip; I think it belonged to the “Moon people” and as I recall it had pods that extended from the spacecraft body (which did look like a water heater). The pods could be used to repel or attract gravity, sort of a “zero point energy” device (although they didn’t call it that).
      The “two-way wrist radio” came to be in reality, so why not this?

  5. Could the strange new propulsion system be the deployment of the first operational anti-gravity system? Nick Cook talked about Russian work in the area of electrogravitics in the 1990s. Twenty years of development can produce results, especially if they had a Plednekov breakthrough that the Russian MoD kept secret.

    And an anti-gravity system would certainly raise alarm bells in the US DOD, since they’ve been working on it secretly since the 1950s without public results (according to Cook, written 19 years ago).

    Needless to say, such technology, finally operational in meatspace, would be Historic. It’d also destroy the world’s existing aerospace industry business models. Good-bye, Wright Bros-derived wings and planes–hello, 22nd century tech.

  6. One can only laugh at the narcissistic behavior of the USSA when someone else plays in what they consider their sandbox. What has that mini, reusable shuttle been up to anyway? Quite possible the Russians intend to find out with their “inspection” satellite while they test a new propulsion system. There are many games two (or more) can play; get used to it.
    Denial of space based command and control platforms would be very debilitating for the Amerikan military which relies far too heavily on them.

  7. It’s a very “strange” week at GDS 😉

    You have to just roll your eyes at the typical imperial arrogance being shown here: “How dare those impudent Russians launch innovative and clearly threatening objects into space and then lie about their intentions — only we’re allowed to do that.”

    “…Oh, and we want one, too.”

  8. My take is that the Russians are ‘pushing back’ against the aggressive US (Israeli) posturing around Iran. Those ‘Russkies’ know full well that the US military & alphabet agencies have integrated space-based intel & communications into their force structure, and have therefore become dependent on same. Anything that is demonstrating the ability to (potentially) waltz right up to said satellites is bound to generate a buzz. As intended…

    (Part of this may be in response to DARPA’s efforts to fund ‘inspection & repair’ satellites, which can be used in a multitude of ways…)

    What could also be alarming about this orbit-changing capability is the ‘Samson Option’ it implies. Fill a satellite with BBs, give it the capability to move to any desired orbital-plane on demand & dump same, and you can ‘deny’ whole swatches of sky to a foe. Closing velocity is a potent weapon…

    1. Interesting idea, I was entertaining the idea of an assassin satellite with EMP or blaster capabilities. Space wars will be here someday by any indication.

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