Tuesday, June 9, 2015

On The Side, China Once Obliterated a Weather Satellite

In reporting the opening of a new center in China for monitoring space debris, the Chinese news agency Xinhua pointed out some sources of the potentially dangerous material which hurtles around our planet:
Space debris is generally man-made litter left in space: parts of rocket launchers, inactive satellites and broken remains of past collisions.

More than 300,000 pieces of debris in space are believed to be in orbit, made up of everything from tiny screws and bolts to large parts of rockets, travelling at average speeds of 10 kilometers per second - about 40 times faster than the typical atmospheric aircraft.

At that speed, even the smallest pieces of debris can damage or destroy spacecraft and satellites.
Xinhua did not directly mention one significant source — the testing and use of anti-satellite weapons. But the phrase "past collisions" applies to how the most successful anti-satellite weapons have worked. The omission of details is notable given China's relatively recent contribution in this area as reported in 2007:
The intentional destruction on Jan. 11 of China's Fengyun-1C weather satellite via an anti-satellite (ASAT) device launched by the Chinese has created a mess of fragments fluttering through space.

The satellite's destruction is now being viewed as the most prolific and severe fragmentation in the course of five decades of space operations.

Lobbed into space atop a ballistic missile, the ASAT destroyed the weather-watching satellite that had been orbiting Earth since May 10, 1999. The result was littering Earth orbit with hundreds upon hundreds of various sizes of shrapnel.
Xinhua's choice not to mention China's achievement is unsurprising though. After all, at the time a spokesman for the Chinese defense ministry's foreign affairs department said:
We are not aware of that test. Usually the media writes stories on hearsay evidence, we don't have time to verify such stories.

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