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A TOP-SECRET spy satellite operated by Russia is feared to have "disintegrated" in space.
The mysterious probe had lurked in Earth's orbit for more than half a decade and was reportedly designed to inspect and destroy enemy satellites in orbit.
Orbit - December - Ex-Nasa - Expert
It broke up in orbit unannounced in late December, according to one ex-Nasa expert.
"In Dec 2013 Russa launched ... three military communications satellites and a fourth, initially unannounced, payload, later acknowledged with the cover name Kosmos-2491," astronomer Dr Jonathan McDowell wrote on Twitter.
Mission - UTC - Dec - Satellite - Orbit
"It appeared to end its mission in 2014. However, at about 1321 UTC on 2019 Dec 23, the satellite made an orbit change and 10 debris objects have now been catalogued."
The sudden appearance of debris suggests the spacecraft broke apart in orbit. The Kremlin has not commented on the loss of the satellite.
Dr - McDowell - Incident - Move - Result
According to Dr McDowell, the incident could have been a calculated move or the result of a random collision with space debris.
"The inference is that Kosmos-2491 may have disintegrated," he said.
Deliberate - Destruction - Battery - Prop - Event
He added that this could have occurred "through deliberate destruction, accidental battery or prop event, or through an accidental debris collision.
"I lean to accident since it is my guess the sat has been dead for several years, but it’s not certain."
Dr - McDowell - Trade - Nasa - Marshall
Dr McDowell once plied his trade at Nasa's Marshall Space Flight Center, but has worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics since 1992.
After thinking about it for a while, the space buff concluded that left over propellant (prop) in one of the craft's fuel tanks may have led to 2491's demise.
Debris - Event
He continued: "After sleeping on it, I lean towards a residual-prop debris event.
"Rocket stages which don’t do depletion burns sometimes blow up years later.
K2491 - Sats - Type - Prop - System
"Although K2491 did not manoeuvre other sats of its type did; maybe the prop system failed and was still full.
"So that’s what I’m labelling it...
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