Friday 28 June 2024

LUCH (OLYMP) 2 is on the move again [UPDATED]

Image from June 27, 2024. Click to enlarge

 [ UPDATED on 5 July 2024 ]

The Russian military geosynchronous SIGINT satellite LUCH (OLYMP) 2 (2023-031A) is on the move again. It has left its position at longitude 4.7 E with a manoeuver initiated on 22 June 2024, likely around 11:40 UTC. It is now drifting westwards with a drift rate of approximately 0.9 degrees per day

The change in several orbital elements after mid June 22 is well visible in the TLE data:

It will be interesting to see what LUCH (OLYMP) 2's next stalking victim will be.

LUCH (OLYMP) 2, which was launched on 12 March 2023, is building a history of frequent relocations, like its predecessor LUCH (OLYMP) 1 (2014-048A) did. With each relocation, it is placed close to a commercial satellite. Below shows the position it had between April 1 and June 22 close (daily varying between 20-75 km) to ASTRA 4A at 4.7 E, where it arrived on April 2, 2024 (see this earlier blogpost) until it left there on June 22. 



So far LUCH (OLYMP) 2 has stalked at least four commercial satellites:

ARRIVED      LEFT         LON      NEXT TO
22-05-2023   25-09-2023   9.0 E    EUTELSAT (KA SAT) 9A/EUTELSAT 9B
04-10-2023   04-12-2023   3.2 E    EUTELSAT 3B
05-12-2023   26-03-2024   2.6 E    EUTELSAT KONNECT VHTS
01-04-2024   22-06-2024   4.7 E    ASTRA 4A

Below, the movements since launch in diagram form, showing the longitude of placement The first two placements at 78 E and 58 E were probably check-out placements.

click diagram to enlarge

What LUCH (OLYMP) 2 (and its predecesssor LUCH (OLYMP) 1) is doing so close to commercial satellites is an interesting issue. To name a few possibilities: it might be gathering information to map contact networks; geolocating targets that use the satellites; eavesdropping on data communications; prepare for or actually do jamming or spoofing activities; or checking these satellites for vulnerabilities that might provide a means to disable them, might need come.


UPDATES 5 and 7 July 2024

The westward drift of LUCH (OLYMP) 2 stopped on July 1, at longitude 0.54 W, where it has now stabilized its position. LUCH (OLYM) 2 is now close to the Norwegian commercial geosat THOR 7 (2015-022A). Due to bad weather, I have not been able to image it there yet. I imaged it at its new position on July 6/7, see this new blogpost.

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