A newly-launched Russian satellite appears to be closely following the path of a US spy satellite known as USA 326. Following the launch on Monday, video footage has been taken of the two satellites taking the same orbital path.
On August 1, Russia launched the Soyuz-2.1v rocket from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia. The payload was Kosmos-2558, a Russian military satellite with an undisclosed purpose that appears to be part of Project Nivelir, using small satellites to track other satellites in space.
"Before the launch, there was a rumour that this was another 'inspector' satellite - a snooping satellite meant to covertly inspect another satellite," Lecturer in optical Space Situational Awareness at Delft Technical University, the Netherlands, Marco Langbroek wrote on the blog SatTrackCam.
"After some speculation about the potential target arose, I pointed out that the middle of the launch window as indicated by NOTAM's for the launch, 20:30 UTC, was close to the moment that the orbital plane of the classified US electro-optical IMINT satellite USA 326 (2022-009A) passed over Plesetsk, at 20:25 UTC."
"And sure enough, it did indeed launch at 20:25 UTC, into the orbital plane of USA 326. And as it turned out, into an orbital altitude that is close as well."
A few days later, on Wednesday, Langbroek filmed the satellites passing overhead within half an hour of each other.
The satellite that Kosmos-2558 appears to be tracking – spy satellite USA-326, launched in February – has been the subject of speculation itself in the last week, after an object separated from the main body of the orbiter.
It's unclear whether this second object was debris or a deliberately-launched sub-satellite. Russia's satellite may soon know this, but it's unlikely they'll let on. Another satellite, launched by Russia in 2019, was believed to be another satellite tracker. The use of these trackers – put together by the firm Nivelir – has not been confirmed by Russia.