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Aolong 1

A unique payload lofted by the CZ-7/YZ-1A was the Active Debris Removal Vehicle (ADRV), or Aolong 1 (“Roaming Dragon 1”), also developed by CALT. According to Chinese press reports, Aolong 1 was designed to actively capture and remove space debris objects using its onboard robotic arm. During the CZ-7-Y1 mission, Aolong 1 will demonstrate the removal of a simulated space debris object, capturing the object and then bring it to a re-entry trajectory to be burned up in the Earth atmosphere.

The technique demonstrated by Aolong 1 requires the spacecraft to have the capability to identify, rendezvous, and perform proximity operations with a non-cooperative target, either a retired satellite or a space debris object. However, the same technique could also be used against an operational satellite on orbit, raising concerns that China may be secretively testing a space-based anti-satellite (ASAT) system.

The Roaming Dragon has "potential as an anti-satellite weapon that, during wartime, could be used as deterrents or directly against enemy assets in space". Being small, lightweight and simple to launch the report states China could fill space with a swarm of the robots.

Space engineering expert claimed "the development of the technology was mainly supported by the military, and kept confidential" posing questions as to what the military's interest in a 'cleaning spacecraft' would be. Others questioned the sophistication required of technology to be effective. The precision of the robotic arm would have to be so exact that doubt has arisen as to whether it would be capable of clearing any debris. "To get a firm grip, the arm must aim for a specific target area – something that in space is likely to be constantly changing," said the South China Morning Post.

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Page last modified: 03-07-2016 20:07:34 ZULU