Mysterious Russian satellite crashed in orbit, leaving a cloud of debris

A mysterious Russian satellite broke apart early last month, leaving a cloud of debris that could remain in Earth orbit for some time.

The spacecraft “Kosmos-2499” fell apart on the night of January 1. 3, according to the 18th Space Defense Squadron (18th SDS) of the US Space Force, which tracks man-made objects in orbit.

The destruction generated at least 85 traceable debris, the 18th Security Service tweeted on Monday. (will open in a new tab) (February 6). This cloud of space debris orbits 726 miles (1,169 kilometers) above the Earth – so high that it would likely take a century or more. (will open in a new tab) for atmospheric drag to bring it down.

Related: Getting space debris under control may require a change in attitude

To learn more

The 18th SDS did not speculate about the cause of the collapse. And this is far from the only mystery surrounding Cosmos 2499.

According to Anatoly Zak of, the satellite was launched into Earth orbit in May 2014 on a Russian Rokot rocket along with three Rodnik military communications satellites. (will open in a new tab).

Cosmos 2499 was not officially included in the launch manifest; Zach wrote that US satellite tracking systems originally cataloged it as a wreck called Object E. But then the “wreckage” began to make maneuvers, apparently approaching the upper stage of the “Rokot” “Breeze-M”.

“By the end of October [2014]The US officially reclassified Object E as a “payload” instead of a “fragment” and finally cataloged it as “Cosmos 2499” (with “translated” spelling “COSMOS 2499″), Zack wrote. orbital parameters of the mysterious satellite three to four times a day!”

An analysis of the orbital elements shows that Kosmos 2499 was only 0.47 miles (0.76 km) away from Breeze-M on November 9, 2014, according to Zach. The spacecraft soon retreated, but on November 25, it got even closer, approaching the rocket body to within 0.33 miles (0.53 km).

Such activity has led to speculation that Cosmos 2499 and Cosmos 2491, similar-looking objects launched into Earth orbit in December 2013, are testing technology that could allow spacecraft to stalk and possibly even disable other satellites. Indeed, Oleg Ostapenko, then head of the Russian federal space agency Roskosmos, came up with such rumors at a press conference in December 2014.

“According to Ostapenko, the satellites were developed in cooperation with Roscosmos and the Russian Academy of Sciences and were used for peaceful purposes, including for unidentified scientific research by educational institutions,” Zak wrote. “They have fulfilled their mission,” Ostapenko said, without specifying what that mission was.

Despite Ostapenko’s words, Cosmos-2499 remained active from time to time for several more years. For example, according to Zach, the satellite, which ground-based observations show was less than 1 foot (0.3 meters) wide, was performing some maneuvers in early 2017.

But the days of maneuvering Kosmos 2499 are over, as the satellite has expired. And his death added even more debris to an already cluttered environment.

According to the European Space Agency (will open in a new tab), about 36,500 pieces of space debris at least 4 inches (10 centimeters) in size orbit our planet. And these are only those objects that are large enough to be tracked; There are probably over 130 million objects in Earth’s orbit that are at least 1 millimeter in diameter.

Even fragments at the bottom of this size range can wreak havoc on satellites and other spacecraft given how fast objects move in orbit. For example, the International Space Station, which orbits at an average altitude of about 250 miles (400 km), revolves around the planet at about 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 km/h).

Mike Wall is the author of Out There (will open in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrations by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (will open in a new tab). Follow us @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab)or on Facebook (will open in a new tab) and instagram (will open in a new tab).

Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker.