The mysterious Russian satellite Kosmos 2499 has disintegrated and divided into pieces that will remain in Earth's orbit for quite some time.
The spacecraft disintegrated on the night of January 3, according to the U.S. Space Force's 18th Space Defense Squadron (18th SDS), which tracks human-made objects in orbit.
According to the 18th SDS, as a result of the disassembly, the satellite was divided into at least 85 parts, the movement of which can be tracked. This space junk pile rotates at an altitude of 1169 kilometers above the Earth.
The 18th SDS did not elaborate on the cause of the collapse of Kosmos 2499. However, as Space.com informs, this is not the only mystery related to Kosmos 2499.
#18SDS has confirmed the breakup of COSMOS 2499 (#39765, 2014-028E) - occurred Jan 4, 2023 at appx 0357 UTC. Tracking 85 associated pieces at est 1169 km altitude - analysis ongoing. #spacedebris #space @SpaceTrackOrg @US_SpaceCom @ussfspoc— 18th Space Defense Squadron (@18thSDS) February 7, 2023
According to RussianSpaceWeb.com reporter Anatoly Zak, the satellite was launched into Earth orbit in May 2014 by the Russian Rockot spacecraft along with three Rodnik military communications satellites. However, there was no official information at the time that Kosmos 2499 had also been launched into space, and American services tracking satellites initially classified it as a piece of debris, which was given the name Object E. But then the Americans noticed that it began to maneuver, probably approaching the upper part of the Rockot spacecraft called Briz-M.
Zak wrote that at the end of October 2014, the United States officially reclassified Object E as a payload launched into space, which was given the name Kosmos 2499. "The U.S. military was now rechecking orbital parameters of the mysterious satellite three or four times a day!" he wrote.
Analysis of orbital elements showed that on November 9, 2014, Kosmos 2499 came within about 0.76 kilometers of the Rockot spacecraft's Briz-M segment, then departed, and on November 25, it came even closer to 0.53. km away.
As per Anatoly Zak, such activities have led to speculation that Kosmos 2499 and Kosmos 2491—another such object that was launched into Earth’s orbit in December 2013—were testing technology that could enable spacecraft to pursue and perhaps, even disable other satellites. However, Oleg Ostapenko, then the head of Russia's federal space agency Roscosmos, denied this, saying that these satellites are used for peaceful purposes.
According to the European Space Agency, about 36,500 pieces of space debris at least 10 centimeters in diameter orbit the Earth, and the number of objects at least 1 millimeter in diameter exceeds 130 million. Even debris of that size could damage satellites and other spacecraft, given how fast Earth-orbiting objects travel. For example, the International Space Station rotates at a speed of 28,000 km/h.