From Russia, Unofficial Assurance about Intent of Lurking Luch Satellite

by

WASHINGTON – A mysterious Russian satellite that squeezed next to two Intelsat satellites and alarmed company executives has an “extremely small” chance of a collision, a Russian space expert told state-run media.

Ivan Moiseyev, the head of Russia’s Space Policy Institute, told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti in an Oct. 20 story that  “the possibility of a collision or some kind of interference is extremely small.”

The Russian satellite, alternatively known as Luch or Olymp, launched in September 2014 and seven months later moved to a position directly between the Intelsat 7 and Intelsat 901 satellites, which are located within half a degree of one another in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the equator.

In late September, the satellite moved again, according to an analysis published Oct. 5 by Brian Weeden, technical adviser at the Secure World Foundation.

The satellite has now settled at 24.4 degrees west longitude, right next to the Intelsat 905 satellite at 24.5 degrees west, according to information available on the space tracking website n2yo.com, which republishes U.S. Defense Department data.

Moiseyev said the Luch “is simply a relay satellite, sending signals from spacecraft to Earth, for example from the International Space Station — we have communications problems there — and from one satellite to another.”

“In no way can it be an ‘aggressor,’” he told the state news agency. “Any satellite can make some clumsy maneuvers, but collisions are extremely rare.”

The statements appear to be the first comments from Russia about the satellite. The Space Policy Institute, also known as ICP, was established by the Russian space agency and other government agencies in 1993 as an independent and nonprofit research organization.

Kay Sears, president of Intelsat General, the government services arm of satellite operator Intelsat of Luxembourg and McLean, Virginia, has described the satellite’s movements as “irresponsible.”  The Russian satellite was so close, Sears has said she believed “the safety of flight” of the Intelsat satellites was at risk.

Intelsat, which operates 75 satellites, including some which are used for Defense Department communications, had tried to reach the Russian satellite’s owners directly and through the Defense Department but did not receive a response, Sears has said.

In recent weeks, the Luch satellite maneuvers have been the subject of classified meetings within the Defense Department and captured the attention of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. One U.S. government official said options are being developed for addressing these types of situations.

Air Force officials have said the Luch satellite has come within five kilometers of another satellite on three occasions since its launch. They did not identify the satellite or satellites that were approached.