Return to the Data Archive

Unusual Behavior in GEO: Olymp-K

This data repository accompanies Space Threat Assessment 2019, a featured report from the CSIS Aerospace Security Project.

This data repository visualizes the orbital position of Russian satellite Olymp-K—also referred to as “Luch” by the Russian government—from July 2017 to November 2018, relative to other satellites currently in the GEO belt.

Unlike most objects in the geostationary belt, 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. From July 2017 to November 2018—the time period depicted in the interactive diagram—Olymp-K occupied nine 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.1 Later, Space News reported an Intelsat executive’s response to the close approach, which suggested that Olymp-K‘s behavior was “not normal” and “concerned” Intelsat.2 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.3 A table highlighting a portion of Olymp-K’s movements—including the actions that likely spurred the accusations by Intelsat and the French government—appears below.

To learn more about the potential consequences of such behavior on orbit, including a broader look at Russia’s counterspace weapon activities, read the Russia space threat assessment in Space Threat Assessment 2019.

Methodology

This data visualization relies on two principal data sources: the Space-Track.org catalog of all space objects, provided by the U.S. Strategic Command’s Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC),4 and a database of geostationary satellites currently on orbit, provided by NY2O.com.5

The orbital position data for Olymp-K from July 2017 to November 2018—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.6 Although Space-Track.org provides more than one TLE for Olymp-K per day during the time period depicted, this data repository shows just one longitudinal position per day, for clarity.

The orbital position data for the other GEO satellites—shown in gray in the interactive diagram—use data from NY2O.com, as it appeared on March 24, 2019.

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.