"China performed a successful anti-satellite weapons test" last week, according to Aviation Week. In the trial, a ballistic missile, armed with a non-explosive warhead, "destroy[ed] an aging Chinese weather satellite target" over 500 miles above the Earth, U.S. intelligence agencies believe.The news comes just a few months after reports of China testing high-powered lasers to temporarily blind American orbiters. "If the test is verified it will signify a major new Chinese military capability," AvWeek says. And it could be the spark that ignites an arms race in space, analysts believe. Theresa Hitchens, with the Center for Defense Information called it an "irresponsible and self-defeating act" that will give "space hawks more ammunition to take the United States down a similarly dangerous path."
Details emerging from space sources indicate that the Chinese Feng Yun 1C (FY-1C) polar orbit weather satellite... was attacked by an ASAT [anti-satellite] system launched from or near the Xichang Space Center.The attack is believe to have occurred as the weather satellite flew at 530 mi. altitude 4 deg. west of Xichang, located in Sichuan province...Although intelligence agencies must complete confirmation of the test, the attack is believed to have occurred at about 5:28 p.m. EST Jan. 11. U. S. intelligence agencies had been expecting some sort of test that day, sources said....USAF radar reports on the Chinese FY-1C spacecraft have been posted once or twice daily for years, but those reports jumped to about 4 times per day just before the alleged test.The USAF radar reports then ceased Jan. 11, but then appeared for a day showing "signs of orbital distress". The reports were then halted again. The Air Force radars may well be busy cataloging many pieces of debris, sources said.Harvard University's Jeffrey Lewis, a self-admitted skeptic about China's space ambitions, has been hearing from many sources in recent months that "Chinas ASAT work seem[s] to have been ramping up." He writes over at his blog, Arms Control Wonk:
If China has conducted an ASAT test, this is extremely bad. I had been hoping that the Bush Administration would push for a ban on anti-satellite testing, either in the form of a code of conduct. The Bush folks, however, have been fond of saying that wasnt necessary, because 'there is no arms race in space.'Well, we have one now, instigated by an incredibly short-sighted Chinese government.(Big ups: EM)UPDATE 11:42 AM: Why would Beijing pull a stunt like this? The China Matters blog has a theory. Meanwhile, one keen space-watcher notes that, if this anti-sat weapon was really "kinetic" -- i.e., hit-to-kill, non-explosive -- instead of a plain ol' exploding weapon, that's extremely bad news. That means the booster rocket has to be very accurate "in order to deliver the kill vehicle to the desired initial trajectory.... Then the kill vehicle needs to tweak its trajectory into a precise collision course using on-board propulsion and either on-board target tracking or... command guidance from the ground." That's no mean task.ALSO:* China Space Attack: Unstoppable* Beijing's Next-Gen Sat Strike* Satellite Killer's Broad Impact* Why Did China Smack the Sat?* China Sat-Killer Not Yet Weapons Grade?* Who Ordered the Satellite Strike?