Russian spy ship may have been sent to monitor SpaceX launch

Recent reports noting that a Russian spy ship was sailing dangerously off the coast of South Carolina suggested that it was monitoring nuclear sub and other U.S. Navy traffic.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported that the ship, the Victor Leonov, was operating off the coast of South Carolina without running lights at night.

Moreover, the vessel wouldn’t respond to commercial ships seeking to avoid a collision. Odd, because it’s not as though the Pentagon didn’t know she’s there. The ship been shadowed by the Arleigh Burke-class destroy USS Mahon

But a new report from The Washington Times’ long-time national security ace Bill Gertz suggests an additional mission the Victor Leonov may have engaged in:

The Russian intelligence-gathering vessel that was operating erratically off the East Coast this week may have timed its latest foray into waters close to the United States with the Monday launch in Florida of a new commercial communications satellite by the private company SpaceX. …

A major objective for the spy ship was originally thought to be the Navy base at Kings Bay, Georgia, 38 miles north of Jacksonville. The base is home to Submarine Group 10, consisting of six nuclear ballistic missile submarines and two guided-missile submarines.

But there are new indications that the spying target this time also included SpaceX’s space launch capability.

On Monday, the private space launch company founded by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk conducted the 13th successful launch of its Falcon 9 booster from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launcher placed a communications satellite into orbit and then returned to Earth by landing on a barge in the Atlantic eight minutes later.

Analysts speculate that the ship may have been observing the launch to gather data that could benefit reusable Russian space launchers.

Very possible, given that, according to Tass, a Russian media outlet, Moscow’s looking to build its own reusable spacecraft over the course of the next several years:

Russian scientists are ready to build a reusable space launch system with a single-stage-to-orbit carrier rocket in eight years, the director of the Polytechnic Institute of the South Urals State University, which takes part in the project, said.

“We have passed the stage of technical design report and, by now, three variants of the spacecraft have been designed. If we start working in 2020, a prototype of a carrier rocket should be ready by 2028. It will take five years to design the [launch] platform and eight years – for the entire system,” Sergei Vaulin told Tass.


The project, codenamed Korona, was ran by the Makeyev State Rocket Center between 1992 and 2012, but was suspended due to lack of financing. In 2017, the center suggested resuming it.

In November 2019, the South Urals State University said its scientists were ready to join the project.

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