Thursday, January 16, 2020

Secret Russian Satellite Carrying Ham Transponder May Have Exploded

(Image by Jose Furtado, via Wikimedia Commons)
A top-secret Russian military satellite thought to also be carrying the RS-46 amateur radio transponder is missing and may have exploded in orbit, according to a British news site. A report from "Metro" quotes an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics as saying that the Kosmos-2491 spacecraft, launched in 2013, most likely blew up, either intentionally or accidentally. There had been speculation that the satellite was actually an experimental space weapon of some type.

According to Metro, astronomer Jonathan McDowell wrote on Twitter that in late 2013, "Russia launched a Rokot vehicle with three military communications satellites and a fourth, initially unannounced, payload, later acknowledged with the cover name Kosmos-2491 and associated with the RS-46 amateur radio payload ... It appeared to end its mission in 2014." 

"However," McDowell continued, "at about 1321 UTC on 2019 Dec 23, the satellite made a 1.5m/s orbit change and 10 debris objects have now been catalogued."

McDowell speculated that the satellite may have been destroyed either intentionally or accidentally, either as a result of colliding with space debris or – more likely, he says – that unused propellant still carried by the spacecraft exploded. He noted that "(r)ocket stages which don't do depletion burns sometimes blow up years later." 

Bottom line for hams: If you're looking for RS-46, it isn't there anymore.