KEY POINTS

  • A Harvard astronomer claims a Russian spy satellite may have exploded in space
  • The satellite could be part of Russia's secret anti-satellite program
  • The satellite may have been destroyed intentionally

An astronomer claimed a spy satellite launched by Russia may have recently exploded in low-Earth orbit. According to the astronomer, the satellite may have been deployed by Russia as part of the country’s anti-satellite warfare strategy.

The satellite, identified as Kosmos 2491 was launched by Russia in 2013. Although not much is known regarding its actual mission and objectives, Kosmos 2491 has been classified as a military satellite.

According to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Kosmos 2491 may have been launched as part of the Nivelir series, a clandestine Russian program that aims to covertly inspect other satellites currently in orbit, Space Daily reported.

McDowell noted that through this project, Russia could be trying to improve its anti-satellite warfare tactics through Kosmos 2491 and its other Nivelir satellites.

Recently, McDowell reported via Twitter that Kosmos 2491 may have disintegrated in space based on the data collected by the U.S. Air Force. According to the agency’s Project Space Track, a total of 10 fragments have been detected in low Earth orbit. Based on the location of the fragments, it was presumed that they came from the Kosmos 2491 satellite.

As noted by the Air Force, the fragments were orbiting at altitudes of 1,329 to 1,699 kilometers.

“At about 1321 UTC on 2019 Dec 23, the satellite made a 1.5m/s orbit change and 10 debris objects have now been cataloged,” McDowell stated.

Since the Russian government has not yet released an official statement to clarify the speculations surrounding Kosmos 2491, it is not yet clear what actually happened to the satellite. However, if it did break apart, McDowell noted that it may have been a deliberate explosion that destroyed the satellite.

It is also possible that Kosmos 2491 collided with other space debris currently floating around in low-Earth orbit.

“The inference is that Kosmos-2491 may have disintegrated, either through deliberate destruction, accidental battery or prop event, or through an accidental debris collision,” he stated. “I lean to accident since it is my guess the [satellite] has been dead for several years, but it's not certain.”