The Pentagon is protesting Russia's launch of a surveillance satellite that is allegedly closely circling one of its American counterparts in the same orbit.
Known as Kosmos 2558, the Russian satellite was launched on Aug. 1 and appears to have been put in a position that is quite similar to that of a classified American reconnaissance satellite that was launched on Feb. 2.
As of Aug. 2, Kosmos 2558 is replicating the American satellite's orbit with a variation of just 0.04 degrees and a distance of 37 miles, according to satellite tracker Marco Langbroek of the Netherlands (60 kilometers).
The commander of U.S. forces, Gen. James H. Dickinson, observed, "That's really irresponsible behavior," according to a report from NBC News.
"We see that it's in a similar orbit to one of our high-value assets for the U.S. government. And so we'll continue like we always do, to continue to update that and track that," Dickinson said.
A video crew from NBC News was given access to the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC) at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. The NBC News report states that this is the first occasion that cameras have been permitted inside the building.
The purpose of JICSpOC is to collect, combine, and disseminate data from a variety of satellites and ground-based monitoring stations for use by the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. According to an unnamed Space Force officer in NBC's story, "We have some really good space capabilities today that will tell us almost immediately if there's been a launch."
Kosmos 2558 is said to be an "inspector satellite" capable of maneuvering relatively close to other spacecraft. Other Russian satellites have been observed exhibiting similar behaviors in the past. The mission and capabilities of the American satellite that Kosmos 2558 is "stalking" are unknown, but it is thought to be capable of collecting imagery intelligence.
The United States has already criticized Russia's reckless behavior in orbit. Thousands of trackable pieces of orbital debris were left behind after Russia launched a missile in 2021 to destroy one of its own defunct satellites. Some of these fragments forced the International Space Station to move out of harm's path.
"Dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of outer space and clearly demonstrates that Russia's claims of opposing the weapons and weaponization of space are disingenuous and hypocritical," U.S. Department of State spokesperson Ned Price, at that time, said.