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On December 25, 2013, at 04:31:54 Moscow Time, a Rockot booster lifted off from Russia's Northern launch site in Plesetsk on a seemingly routine mission to replenish the Rodnik communications satellite constellation, which has been operating in orbit since 2005.
However, unlike previous six launches, which had carried a trio of small Rodnik satellites each, this rocket also released a fourth object into orbit. Surprisingly, in a note to the United Nations dated May 5, 2014, the Russian government announced the launch of four satellites instead of three. They received designations Kosmos-2488, -2489, -2490 and -2491. It obviously meant that the fourth object was not a piece of space junk as originally believed but a functioning satellite. However, the biggest surprise came from following radar observations revealing that a mysterious fourth object had made orbital maneuvers!
The perigee (the lowest point in orbit) for a mysterious Object 2014-028E (or simply Object E) went down quickly in July and August (light blue line) allowing the spacecraft to catch up with an inert Briz-KM stage (dark blue line), which originally delivered it into orbit on May 23, 2014. Then, at the end of October, Object-E sharply climbed back seemingly aiming to intercept the Briz. What is going to happen next is anybody's guess. Credit: The online forum of the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine
Difference in longitudes of orbital nodes (the Equator crossing points) known as Right Ascension of the Ascending Node or RAAN, over time for an inert Briz-KM upper stage (dark blue) and a mysterious Object 2014-028E (or simply Object E), both launched on May 23, 2014
The Yubileiny-2 experimental micro-satellite, later known as MiR, was designed for remote-sensing of the Earth among its goals.
It was expected to be used for educational student projects. Siberian State Aerospace University, SibGAU, supplied key systems for the satellite, employing its students in various stages of the development process. SibGAU developed a laser reflector, the main payload control unit, a power supply unit, two small web cameras, remote-sensing camera for the satellite
At the beginning of August, Object E descended to a 1,121 by 1,491-kilometer orbit, just below the Briz-KM stage, which by then was circling the Earth in a 1,150 by 1,505-kilometer orbit. Two objects were around one fifth of a revolution away from each other, however, thanks to its lower (and shorter) orbit, Object E was catching up with its "target" at a rate of around 0.045 of a revolution per day, observers estimated. Two objects also had around a three-degree difference in their orbital ascending node (the location where their orbits cross the Equator from the Southern to the Northern Hemisphere).
On August 12, the mystery satellite descended further to a 998 by 1,498-kilometer orbit and on August 20, it entered a 925 by 1,489-kilometer orbit. While the difference in orbital inclination between it and Briz-KM was slowly closing, the satellite remained passive. Then, around October 28, as orbital inclination of two objects nearly matched, the mysterious spacecraft "leaped" ever closer toward the stage, by raising its perigee. The rendezvous between two objects was now looked all but inevitable as soon as first days of November.
By the end of October, the US officially re-classified Object-E as "payload" instead of a "fragment" and finally cataloged as Kosmos-2499 (with a "translated" spelling as COSMOS 2499). The US military was now rechecking orbital parameters of the mysterious satellite three or four times a day! Following a maneuver between October 27 and October 28, the rendezvous rate between two vehicles slowed down to just 0.014 degrees per day pushing their encounter to around November 12. Their orbital period had just 1.16-difference at the time. It was taking the Briz-KM stage 112.2 minutes to complete a single revolution around the Earth thus bringining it back into the close proximity to Kosmos-2499 every 100 revolutions or eight days.
Lewis said there are several explanations for the mysterious Russian satellite. Some benign. Some not. Each possible use would be experimental. One of them, she said, involves the clearance of debris — almost like a space vacuum. Many space-bound nations “are looking at how to do this,” Lewis said. Or the mission could have something to do with search and rescue. Other possibilities are substantially more bellicose. “This satellite could be used as some sort of ant-satellite weapon. Or it could be that you use this to cyber jam the satellites to grill them and take control of them, and that way you just leave the satellite dead,” Lewis said.
But both options make little sense, she continued. After all, you don’t need to shoot a satellite into space to “cyberjam” other satellites. Just look at the Chinese. They just hacked U.S. weather systems without launching their own satellites — and did so right here from the ground. And destroying a satellite would create so much debris “it would affect your own satellites’ surveillance and achieve a null goal.”
Small satellite with orbit changing capability. Possibly, but speculatively, an inspector satellite with its own Briz-KM rocket body (2014-028D/39764) as a target. Detected by US tracking sensors and originally catalogued as debris, it was not included in early announcements of the launch. Early 2014 July - started a series of manoeuvres to reduce the separation in orbit planes between itself and the Briz-KM. 2014 November 8/9 it matched planes with the rocket and manoeuvred alongside it.
epoch (UTC) s-m axis ( km ) ec perigee ( km ) apogee ( km ) period ( min ) incl ( ° )ω ( ° )
2014 May 23, 20:26 7872 0.0018 1480 1509 115.86 82.45 317
2014 May 29, 21:19 7873 0.0018 1481 1508 115.86 82.45 304
2014 Jul 2, 22:32 7872 0.0017 1480 1508 115.85 82.45 228
2014 Jul 3, 19:47 7871 0.0020 1477 1508 115.82 82.45 218
2014 Jul 9, 09:02 7868 0.0024 1472 1509 115.77 82.46 200
2014 Jul 11, 17:00 7866 0.0021 1471 1504 115.71 82.45 189
2014 Jul 17, 15:46 7855 0.0022 1460 1494 115.47 82.46 166
2014 Aug 8, 16:11 7684 0.0241 1121 1491 111.72 82.46 99
2014 Aug 12, 10:19 7621 0.0323 997 1489 110.36 82.46 94
2014 Aug 20, 09:32 7588 0.0337 954 1465 109.63 82.42 78
2014 Aug 20, 14:25 7585 0.0371 925 1488 109.57 82.45 73
2014 Oct 28, 23:22 7652 0.0287 1055 1494 111.03 82.46 254
2014 Nov 9, 00:02 7681 0.0254 1108 1499 111.67 82.45 231
2014 Nov 9, 13:19 7705 0.0228 1152 1503 112.19 82.46 230
Koschei cannot be killed by conventional means targeting his body. His soul (or death) is hidden separate from his body inside a needle, which is in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a hare, which is in an iron chest (sometimes the chest is crystal and/or gold), which is buried under a green oak tree, which is on the island of Buyan in the ocean. As long as his soul is safe, he cannot die. If the chest is dug up and opened, the hare will bolt away; if it is killed, the duck will emerge and try to fly off. Anyone possessing the egg has Koschei in their power. He begins to weaken, becomes sick, and immediately loses the use of his magic. If the egg is tossed about, he likewise is flung around against his will. If the egg or needle is broken (in some tales, this must be done by specifically breaking it against Koschei's forehead), Koschei will die.