It’s possible that Russia sent up a ‘spy satellite’ to follow an American surveillance satellite. The USA launched USA 326, a spy satellite, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in February of last year. Now, a Russian satellite known as Kosmos 2558, which is purported to be a ‘inspector plane,’ was launched on Monday, August 2. Even before the Russian spacecraft was launched, according to a report by Space.com, there were rumours that it was a spy satellite designed to monitor its US counterpart. ‘Before the launch, there was a rumour that this was another ‘inspector’ satellite,’ writes Dutch satellite tracker Marco Langbroek in a blog entry. ‘An eavesdropping satellite supposed to discreetly inspect another satellite.’
The right ascension of the ascending node (RAAN), or longitude, of the recently launched Kosmos 2558 ‘matches the RAAN of USA 326 closely, with a difference of only 0.04 degree (varying by around 0.01 degree/day),’ the author continues.
Assuming neither spacecraft performs any significant manoeuvres over the next few days, the two spacecraft are near to one another in height and are expected to have a close collision.
With its present orbit, Kosmos 2558 will pass by USA 236 rather closely on August 4 at around 14:47 UTC. The approach distance is roughly 75 km, of which 73 kilometres are at an altitude, according to Langbroek.
It appears that Russia conducted a comparable ‘stalking’ activity a few years ago.
In early 2020, Russia carried out a same manoeuvre with Kosmos 2542/2543, aiming it against the KH-11 electro-optical reconnaissance satellite USA 245 as Langbroek observes.
The purpose of the USA Satellite makes it possible that this is a spying operation.
USA 326 is referred to as a ‘classified payload’ in the NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive, which houses data from space science missions. It is generally accepted that it is a new type of electro-optical IMINT satellite.
The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and SpaceX are collaborating on NROL-87, a top-secret national security programme, for this mission, according to the Drive. NRO’s ‘overhead reconnaissance mission,’ which is primarily focused on ensuring national security by using space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, was developed, built, and is currently being operated by the NRO, according to a press release it released following the initial launch (ISR).