According to official reports, one of 66 satellites owned by Iridium, a U.S. telecoms company, and the Russian Cosmos-2251 satellite, launched in 1993 and believed to be defunct, collided on February 10 about 800 kilometers (500 miles) above Siberia.
However, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Leonid Shershnev, a former head of Russia's military space intelligence, said in an interview published by the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper on Tuesday that the U.S. satellite involved in the collision was used by the U.S. military as part of the "dual-purpose" Orbital Express research project, which began in 2007.
Orbital Express was a space mission managed by the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and a team led by engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC).
According to the DARPA, the program was "to validate the technical feasibility of robotic, autonomous on-orbit refueling and reconfiguration of satellites to support a broad range of future U.S. national security and commercial space programs."
Orbital Express was launched in March 2007 as part of the U.S. Air Force Space Test Program's STP-1 mission. It tested a prototype servicing satellite (ASTRO) and a surrogate next generation serviceable satellite (NextSat). The demonstration program met all the mission success criteria and was officially completed in July 2007.
Shershnev claims the U.S. military decided to continue with the project to "develop technology that would allow monitoring and inspections of orbital spacecraft by fully-automated satellites equipped with robotic devices."
The February collision could be an indication that the U.S. has successfully developed such technology and is capable of manipulating 'hostile satellites,' including their destruction, with a single command from a ground control center, the general said.
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