By Woodrow Butdonthaveapaddle – 2 August, 2022

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – It’s been an eventful week. This startling development is the third maneuver and the second apparent revival of a once-dead satellite in the span of seventy-two hours.

Released alongside TJS-3 following its launch in 2018, TJS-3’s apogee kick motor (AKM) (NORAD 43917) appeared to have been used for SDA node spoofing by maneuvering in concert with TJS-3. However, the two eventually parted ways, and TJS-3’s AKM naturally proceeded to GEO disposal orbit. This was a pivotal moment for on-orbit defensive counterspace.

Pictured: Cold War-era British spin-stabilized Waxwing AKM

image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Waxwing_rocket_motor_science_museum_2012.JPG

At present, the purpose for which the AKM has descended from its graveyard orbit above GEO is unclear. If it can latch onto another satellite, perhaps it can serve as a Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV), but that would require a substantial quantity of fuel.

In the context of recent events, one has to wonder if this has anything to do with Sunday’s TJS-1 maneuver. Is China looking to demonstrate a nascent MEV capability on a middle-aged experimental communications satellite such as TJS-1? What would they have to gain by potentially extending its life? At the very least, both objects appear to be moving to the same general region of GEO.

The 18th Space Defense Squadron (18 SDS) weighed in on Twitter following the AKM revival:

No comment yet from Chinese sources, such as the Chinese National Space Administration Twitter page. As always, Spectrabotics News is actively monitoring the situation and will provide updates as they arise.