Slingshot Aerospace is utilizing AI to identify suspicious satellites.

Russia’s new spy satellite, Luch Olymp K-2, has been uncovered by Slingshot Aerospace, a space data analytics firm focused on spaceflight safety. The company’s space tracking software identified multiple maneuvers by Luch-2 that are highly reminiscent of the behavior exhibited by Luch-1, which caused an international stir when it parked itself between two Intelsat commercial communications satellites for five months in 2015. A series of manuevers that began Sept. 26 show that Luch-2 drifted westward at a speed of about 1 degree per day before slowing down Oct. 2 to visit another “neighborhood” of GEO spacecraft.

Slingshot’s vice president of strategy and policy Audrey Schaffer said these maneuvers were detected by the company’s automated software that tracks all satellites. She said these insights could be helpful for any government or commercial satellite operator concerned about security in space. Luch-2 does not get close enough to any satellite to set off a collision warning from the U.S. Space Force, known as a conjunction alert. However, just because it is not close enough to be a safety threat doesn’t mean it doesn’t potentially present a security threat. If a commercial communication satellite company is concerned about security in space, they may not want a Russian spy satellite listening in on their communications.

According to Michael Clonts, director of space domain awareness initiatives at Kratos Defense, Luch-2 carried similar payloads to the earlier model but likely packed more advanced signals intelligence capabilities and operational techniques. Slingshot describes its space tracking software as a “machine learning-based object profiling engine” that pulls data from multiple sources. The system tracked Luch-2’s westward drift and predicted where it was headed.

Inspector satellites like Luch-1 and Luch-2 are expected to drift by, take pictures, and continue on their way. A signals intelligence spy satellite will loiter for long periods of time near its target satellite or group of satellites. Schaffer, a former White House space policy official, said these types of satellite manuevers raise suspicion and should be considered when developing rules of the road that apply to space operators.