The Space Force Turns One

Space Force uniform
Projected to grow to 16,000 troops, the Space Force will be by far the smallest branch of the U.S. military. (USAF / Airman Kayla White)

Of the more than 2,000 active satellites currently in low Earth orbit, Kosmos 2543 may be the most notorious.

Russia launched the spacecraft on November 25, 2019, as a small “inspector” satellite designed to check on the country’s own satellites in orbit. But within a couple weeks of launch, it separated from its mothership, and in January, civilian space watchers alerted the world that both spacecraft had sidled up into roughly the same orbit as USA 245, an American reconnaissance satellite.

Michael Thompson, an astrodynamics graduate student at Purdue University, was one of the first civilians to spot the maneuver in orbital data posted online. “Something to potentially watch,” he tweeted on January 30. “This is all circumstantial evidence, but there are a hell of a lot of circumstances that make it look like a known Russian inspection satellite is currently inspecting a known U.S. spy satellite.”