Nivelir is probably a project to build small satellites designed to inspect other satellites in space. The code name associated with this project in official documentation is Nivelir ('Dumpy level'). A dumpy level is a type of self-levelling optical measuring instrument.
The project officially got underway on September 30, 2011, when the Central Scientific Research Institute of Chemistry and Mechanics Named After D.I. Mendeleyev [TsNIIKhM or CNIIHM] was awarded a contract for Nivelir by the State Scientific and Technical Center Garant (GNTTs Garant). Taras Gavrilenko (who worked on small satellites at the PO Polyot company in Omsk, Siberia before moving to CNIIHM) and Aleksandr Glushkov, published papers on orbital inspection in 2011 and 2012. The first three fligths were announced as Cosmos-2491, 2499 and 2504, were launched as co-passengers with trios of communications satellites on the Rokot booster on December 25, 2013; May 23, 2014; and March 31, 2015.
The first launch of the Russian maneuvering satellite, known in the last two decades, took place as early as December 2013, when Rokot and Breeze-KM launched from Plesetsk. Then the Russian Ministry of Defense announced the successful separation of three satellites from the upper stage, while the Pentagon recorded another fourth spacecraft (Cosmos-2491). In May 2014, the next launch of Rokot took place, and the Russian military again announced the withdrawal of three spacecraft, while amateur astronomers discovered the fourth satellite (Cosmos-2499). In June of that year, Cosmos-2499 began to move into the orbit of Breeze-KM, in November it was only a kilometer from the upper stage. Cosmos-2491 and Cosmos-2499 transmit signals at the same radio frequencies, since they are supposedly built on the same microsatellite platform.
In March 2015, another launch of the Rokot with the Breeze-KM took place from Plesetsk, this time the Ministry of Defense announced that a secret load (Cosmos-2504) was being launched together with the three Gonets-M satellites. In orbit, the secret satellite began to maneuver toward the upper stage, which suddenly took a higher orbit. The spent element of the rocket is not able to carry out such maneuvers that can only be explained by external influences. Most likely, Cosmos-2504 collided slightly with Breeze-KM, since there were no traces of the destruction of spacecraft in orbit in the region of the accelerator and secret satellite. The maneuvers of Cosmos-2504 did not end there. In March 2017, a Russian satellite flew just two kilometers from one of about three thousand fragments of the Fengyun-1C Chinese meteorological satellite,
In June 2017, the Soyuz-2.1v launched from Plesetsk with the Volga upper stage with two spacecraft, one of which, Cosmos 2519, officially declared as the Earth’s remote sensing satellite, made several maneuvers. In August 2017, the Russian military announced that they had separated from the Cosmos 2519 satellite inspector Cosmos 2521. In August and September 2017, Cosmos 2521 completed several maneuvers, presumably with the aim of approaching Cosmos 2486. In October 2017, the military announced that the Cosmos 2521 mission had been completed and that the satellite had returned to Cosmos 2519. In the same month, another Cosmos 2523 satellite disconnected from Cosmos 2521. In March 2018, Cosmos 2521 began to move away from Cosmos 2519.
Meanwhile, another Russian satellite attracted the attention of experts. Launched in September 2014 from Baikonur to Proton-M with Breeze-M, the Luch spacecraft (Olimp-K) made several maneuvers, in particular, in October 2014, it was in the area of the Russian telecommunications satellite “ Express AM6 ”, and in February 2015 - not far from the Russian Luch-5V. But Luch attracted special attention of Western specialists in June 2015, being located between the Intelsat 7 and Intelsat 901 satellites until September 2015.
Experts believe that Russian inspector satellites are most likely designed to spy and service long-range missions of the Russian Navy, but in the future they will allow the use of electronic warfare systems as interceptors or carriers.
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