Data Repository Space Security Unusual Behavior in GEO: Luch (Olymp-K) Last UpdatedMarch 30, 2020 By Thomas G. Roberts ShareView in the Data Repository This data repository accompanies Space Threat Assessment 2020, a featured report from the CSIS Aerospace Security Project. This data repository visualizes the orbital position of the Russian Luch satellite—also referred to as Olymp-K by the U.S. government—from July 2017 to December 2019. Unlike most objects in the geostationary belt, Luch (Olymp-K) made a series of orbital maneuvers after it reached its destination orbital regime, varying its position relative to the Earth and neighboring satellites and spurring several accusations of Russian misbehavior by other satellite operators.1 From July 2017 to December 2019—the time period depicted in the interactive diagram—Luch (Olymp-K) occupied at least 12 distinct orbital positions. In 2015, an essay published in The Space Review documented early movements of the Russian satellite, noting its close proximity to two Intelsat satellites.2 Later, SpaceNews reported an Intelsat executive’s response to the close approach, which suggested that Luch’s behavior was “not normal” and “concerned” Intelsat.3 Years later, the French Minister of the Armed Services made similar statements about the Russian satellite’s behavior as it related to the French-Italian satellite Athena-Fidus.4 The table below describes a more complete history of Luch (Olymp-K)’s orbital history, including several of the satellite’s nearest neighbors. Timeline of Luch’s Orbital Maneuvers and Selected Nearest Neighbors Approximate Time Period Action September 27, 2014 Launch of Luch (Olymp-K) September 27 – October 17, 2014 Initial GEO drift, reaching a maximum longitude 66.5°E before becoming stable near 54.0°E October 18 – December 27, 2014 Maintained orbit December 28 – December 31, 2014 Relocated to 53.0°E January 1 – February 1, 2015 Maintained orbit near Sesat 25 February 2 – February 20, 2015 Relocated to 96.4°E February 21 – April 4, 2015 Maintained orbit near Express AM-336 April 5 – June 21, 2015 Westward drift; relocated to 17.9°W June 22 – September 25, 2015 Maintained orbit between Intelsat 7 and Intelsat 9017 September 26 – October 3, 2015 Relocated to 23.6°W October 4 – December 8, 2015 Maintained orbit near Intelsat 9058 December 9, 2015 – January 8, 2016 Relocated to 0.9°W January 9 – August 29, 2016 Maintained orbit, often near Skynet 4C9 and later, Intelsat 3-F710 August 30 – September 9, 2016 Relocated to 9.9°E September 10, 2016 – July 27, 2017 Maintained orbit near Meteosat 111 and Eute 10A12 July 28 – August 15, 2017 Relocated to 32.7°E August 15 – October 17, 2017 Maintained orbit near Intelsat New Dawn13 October 18 – October 23, 2017 Relocated to 38.1°E October 24, 2017 – January 11, 2018 Maintained orbit near Athena-Fidus and Paksat 1R14 January 12 – January 14, 2018 Relocated to 41.9°E January 15 – February 5, 2018 Maintained orbit near Turksat 4A15 February 6, 2018 Adjusted position to 42.6°E February 7 – April 21, 2018 Maintained orbit near Nigcomsat 1R16 April 22 – April 24, 2018 Relocated to 47.5°E April 26 – June 4, 2018 Maintained orbit near Intelsat 1017 June 5 – June 8, 2018 Adjusted position to 48.1°E June 9 – June 30, 2018 Maintained orbit near Eute 28B18 July 1, 2018 Relocated to 49.9°E July 2 – October 21, 2018 Maintained orbit near Turksat 4B19 October 22 – October 28, 2018 Relocated to 57.0°E October 29, 2018 – February 16, 2019 Maintained orbit between NSS 12 and Astra 1G20 February 17 – February 22, 2019 Relocated to 60.0°E February 23 – June 26, 2019 Maintained orbit near Intelsat 33E21 June 27 – June 29, 2019 Relocated to 64.1°E June 30 – August 20, 2019 Maintained orbit near Intelsat 90622 August 21 – August 25, 2019 Relocated to 66.0°E August 26 – October 18, 2019 Maintained orbit near Intelsat 1723 October 19, 2019 Relocated to 68.5°E October 20 – November 23, 2019 Maintained orbit ner Intelsat 2024 November 24 – November 29, 2019 Relocated to 70.6°E November 30 – December 31, 2019 Maintained orbit near Eutelsat 70B25 Learn more about the potential consequences of such behavior on orbit, including a broader look at Russia’s counterspace weapon activities in Space Threat Assessment 2020. Methodology This data visualization relies on one principal data source: the Space-Track.org catalog of all space objects, provided by the U.S. Air Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron.26 The orbital position data for Luch (Olymp-K) from July 2017 to December 2019—shown in orange in the interactive diagram—was derived from the two-line element (TLE) data for the satellite, available at Space-Track.org. The TLE for a space object is a measurement of the object’s approximate orbit (its inclination, right ascension of the ascending node, eccentricity, and argument of perigee) and its position on that orbit (its mean anomaly). This data was transformed into a time-dependent longitude position using PyEphem, a publicly-available Python package for high-precision astronomy computations.27 Although Space-Track.org often provides more than one TLE for Luch (Olymp-K) per day during the time period depicted, this data repository shows just one longitudinal position per day, for clarity. Longitude measurements are propagated to midnight on each day. To identify Luch’s neighboring satellites, the longitude transformation process was repeated for all satellites in the geosynchronous region (defined as geostationary altitude plus or minus 200 km, with inclinations between -15 and 15 degrees) from Luch’s launch in September 2014 until December 2019.28 Satellites that sustained the closest longitude measurement to Luch for a period of time are known as the satellite’s nearest neighbor. Satellites that remained Luch’s nearest neighbor for at least one week, coming closer than 0.075° (approximately 36 km) have been included in the above table. How far apart are satellites in GEO during normal operations? The median distance between satellites, according to an analysis of all GEO satellites included in the Space-Track.org catalog, is approximately 0.28° or about 207 km. Since not all satellites are included in the U.S. Air Force’s space object database—the 18th Space Control Squadron does not provide orbital data for classified U.S. satellites, for example—this methodology likely over-approximates separation distances. About 25% of GEO satellites are separated by less than 0.11° (or about 78 km), while 75% of GEO satellites are separated by less than 0.69° (or about 510 km). Most satellites—about 90%—are separated from their neighbors by more than 25 km. Similarly, about 96% of satellites are separated from their neighbors by more than 10 km. This interactive data repository is a product of the Andreas C. Dracopoulos iDeas Lab, the in-house digital, multimedia, and design agency at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Special thanks to Jacque Schrag for her work developing this tool.