Takes Out Satellite With Ground Launched Missile
There's been a certain level of panic and a few outbreaks of hysteria over China's alleged testing of a missile that destroyed a satellite, launched from the ground.
The test is supposed to have destroyed one of its old weather satellites.
One of the most interesting things about China's successful test (if that's what it was) and the reaction from the United States is that the US has been trying to develop the exact same kind of weapon for decades.
So their 'outrage' may be more to do with jealousy than pure strategic threat fallout.
From the New York Times (excerpts) :
China successfully carried out its first test of an antisatellite weapon last week, signaling its resolve to play a major role in military space activities and bringing expressions of concern from Washington and other capitals, the Bush administration said yesterday.
Only two nations — the Soviet Union and the United States — have previously destroyed spacecraft in antisatellite tests, most recently the United States in the mid-1980s.
Arms control experts called the test, in which the weapon destroyed an aging Chinese weather satellite, a troubling development that could foreshadow an antisatellite arms race. Alternatively, however, some experts speculated that it could precede a diplomatic effort by China to prod the Bush administration into negotiations on a weapons ban.
“This is the first real escalation in the weaponization of space that we’ve seen in 20 years,” said Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astronomer who tracks rocket launchings and space activity. “It ends a long period of restraint.”
White House officials said the United States and other nations, which they did not identify, had “expressed our concern regarding this action to the Chinese.” Despite its protest, the Bush administration has long resisted a global treaty banning such tests because it says it needs freedom of action in space.
The weather satellite hit by the weapon had circled the globe at an altitude of roughly 500 miles. In theory, the test means that China can now hit American spy satellites, which orbit closer to Earth.
An administration official who had reviewed the intelligence about China’s test said the launching was detected by the United States in the early evening of Jan. 11, which would have been early morning on Jan. 12 in China. American satellites tracked the launching of the medium-range ballistic missile, and later space radars saw the debris.
The Soviet Union conducted roughly a dozen antisatellite tests from 1968 to 1982, Dr. McDowell said, adding that the Reagan administration carried out its experiments in 1985 and 1986.
The Bush administration has conducted research that critics say could produce a powerful ground-based laser weapon that would be used against enemy satellites.
The largely secret project, parts of which were made public through Air Force budget documents submitted to Congress last year, appears to be part of a wide-ranging administration effort to develop space weapons, both defensive and offensive.
The current research takes advantage of an optical technique that uses sensors, computers and flexible mirrors to counteract the atmospheric turbulence that seems to make stars twinkle. The weapon would essentially reverse that process, shooting focused beams of light upward with great clarity and force.
From The Australian :
In a little-reported testimony last week, a US intelligence chief warned that US satellite assets - vital to its role as a superpower - were at risk to new missile technology. Lieutenant General Michael Maples told a congressional hearing in his annual threat address that China and Russia were the "primary states of concern" regarding military space programs.
"Several countries continue to develop capabilities that have the potential to threaten US space assets, and some have already deployed systems with inherent anti-satellite capabilities, such as satellite-tracking laser range-finding devices and nuclear-armed ballistic missiles," the director of the Defence Intelligence Agency said in his written testimony.
That was on January 11, the same day it appears China's satellite missile test was conducted.
Chinese officials said yesterday that Washington was overreacting, but these things are not without calculation. It is another expression from Beijing of its emerging international standing.
China is big on so-called soft power but this satellite missile test raises the stakes. And it came just as there appeared to be a breakthrough between the US and North Korea on its nuclear weapons program.
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