After completing a close approach with SESAT 2 (Express AM-22) in January 2015, the Russian Luch (Olymp) satellite maneuvered to perform another close approach, this time with Express AM-33, a Russian communication satellite.
We have every reason to believe that [Luch‘s close approaches with Express AM-22 and -33] were cooperative engagements.Bob Hall, Technical Director, AGI ComSpOC
Luch approached Express AM-33—located at 96.5°E—from the west, pausing at approximately 96.4°E on February 20, and getting as close as 10 km from Express AM-33 on March 9, 2015. Publicly available space object data suggest that after maintaining its position at 96.4°E for three weeks, Luch began a slow westward drift—less than 0.05° per day—consistent with a natural, uncontrolled trajectory. As of October 2021, none of Luch’s other close approaches share this maneuver profile. In a 2019 interview, Bob Hall, the technical director of AGI’s Commercial Space Operations Center, suggested that Luch’s movements near Express AM-33 were “cooperative engagements” and hypothesized that its uncontrolled drift starting on approximately March 12 was a test of how far away Luch could be from its target satellite and still intercept its communications.1
After the uncontrolled drift away from Express AM-33, Luch likely fired its thrusters to begin a much faster westward drift towards its next close approach engagement with two Intelsat satellites.
Learn more about Luch’s historical behavior here.