Kunpeng-7 / DN-2
China reported the launch of a suborbital high altitude sounding rocket [more properly, a vertical probe] on May 13 to an altitude of more than (but of order?) 10000 km, and possibly of order 30,000 km. The launch came only days after US Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter unveiled what he termed a "long overdue" effort to safeguard US national security satellites and to develop ways to counter the space capabilities of potential adversaries.
The website of the National Space Science Center, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, reported that a sounding rocket was used in a high-altitude scientific exploration test. The note from Chinese academic science is translated as "This experiment used a high-altitude space-exploring rocket, Langmuir probe, high-energetic particle detectors, magnetometers and barium-powder release experimental apparatus and other payload of scientific exploration to test and measure the ionosphere, the high-energy particles and magnetic fields of the near-Earth space strength and structure..."
Xinhua reported that Chinese scientists on 13 May 2013 conducted an experiment in the high-altitude atmosphere and near-Earth space with the launch of a sounding rocket. The National Space Science Center (NSSC) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences said the Space Science Active Experiment rocket was launched at 9 p.m. Monday from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China. The experiment was designed to investigate energetic particles and magnetic fields in the ionized stratum and near-Earth space. According to a preliminary analysis by the NSSC, the experiment reached expected objectives by allowing scientists to obtain first-hand data regarding the space environment at different altitudes.
It was reported that the space scientific experiments carried out at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, energetic particle detectors, Langmuir probe, magnetometer, metal powder, barium and other scientific instruments release device by the Chinese Academy of Sciences National Space Science Centre designed and developed, launch vehicles "Kunpeng 7" / "Roc VII" by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Group research. The rocket was reported as "Kunpeng 7", although the name refers to the payload package and not the rocket. Jonathan McDowell noted that "Unlike typical sounding rocket or ICBM launches, although this launch was suborbital it had more than orbital energy, which places it in a special category..."
The launch vehicle for Kunpeng-7 was possibly a variant of the DF-21 missile used in that program or its much larger DF-31 cousin. It is possible that this launch qualified a new launch vehicle variant intended to carry a high altitude ASAT payload.
Gong Jian, a Fellow at the National Space Science Center and deputy director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the active test probe test compared to the Kunpeng-1 space probe launched from Danzhou, Hainan on 05 April 2013. But the altitude was greatly enhanced, from hundreds of kilometers to more than 10,000 kilometers; and it was equipped with more scientific instruments, access to the data involved in a wider range of space, and the amount of data was more.
The altitude reached by the rocket of over 10,000 km is definitely beyond the range of typical sounding rockets [which are generally in the range of 100 to 1,000 km], but not the American Blue Scout Jr. A total of 10 Blue Scout flights reached more than 10,000 km, the last of which was launched 18 June 1976 to an altitude of 10,230 km.
The US DOD stated: "We detected a launch on May 13 from within China . The launch appeared to be on a ballistic trajectory nearly to geosynchronous Earth orbit. We tracked several objects during the flight but did not observe the insertion of any objects into orbit and no objects associated with this launch remain in space. Based upon observations, we assess that the objects reentered the atmosphere above the Indian Ocean. We defer any further questions to the government of China."
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei held a press conference on May 14, 2013. When asked "Did China carry out anti-satellite test last night?" the answer was "I am not aware of what you mentioned. It is China's longstanding stance to make peaceful use of the outer space and oppose weaponization and arms race in the outer space."
The May 13 experiment is referred to by some as the Dong Ning-2 / Dong Neng 2 or DN-2 (Kinetic Energy). Bill Gertz reported May 14, 2013 that "China’s military on Monday conducted the first test of a new ground-launched anti-satellite missile that was fired into space and disguised as a space-exploration rocket, according to U.S. officials. he test was carried out early Monday from the Xichang Space Launch center and was identified by officials as the new Dong Ning-2 ASAT missile.... The DN-2 is said to be capable of hitting targets in high-earth orbit between 12,000 and 22,236 miles above earth. Many military, intelligence, and commercial satellites orbit at that altitude."
Craig Murray, Senior Policy Analyst in Military and Security Affairs, U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission wrote "While it is difficult to make a solid assessment about the nature of the missile test without more information from DOD or China, available data suggests it was intended to test at least the launch vehicle component of a new high-altitude ASAT capability. This also would be consistent with previous reports that China had developed a new ASAT weapon system and was preparing to test it. If the test is part of China’s ASAT program, Beijing’s attempt to disguise it as a scientific experiment would demonstrate a lack of transparency about its objectives in space. Furthermore, such a test would signal China’s intent to develop an ASAT capability to target satellites in an altitude range that includes U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) and many U.S. military and intelligence satellites. In a conflict, this could allow China to threaten the U.S. military’s ability to detect foreign missiles and provide secure communications, navigation, and precision missile guidance."
In the Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2013, the US DOD reported that "China demonstrated a direct-ascent kinetic kill anti-satellite capability to low Earth orbit when it destroyed the defunct Chinese FY-1C weather satellite during a test in January 2007. Although Chinese defense academics often publish on counterspace threat technologies, no additional anti-satellite programs have been publicly acknowledged. A PLA analysis of U.S. and coalition military operations reinforced the importance of operations in space to enable “informatized” warfare, claiming that “space is the commanding point for the information battlefield.” PLA writings emphasize the necessity of “destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance...and communications satellites,” suggesting that such systems, as well as navigation and early warning satellites, could be among the targets of attacks designed to “blind and deafen the enemy.” The same PLA analysis of U.S. and coalition military operations also states that “destroying or capturing satellites and other sensors…will deprive an opponent of initiative on the battlefield and [make it difficult] for them to bring their precision guided weapons into full play.”"
The 2013 Report To Congress Of The U.S.-China Economic And Security Review Commission reported in November 2013 that "Although it is difficult to draw a definitive conclusion about the nature of the missile launch without more information from China or DoD, available data suggest it was intended to test at least the launch vehicle component of a new high-altitude ASAT capability.60 If the launch is part of China’s ASAT program, Beijing’s attempt to disguise it as a scientific experiment would demonstrate a lack of transparency about its objectives and activities in space. Furthermore, such a test would signal China’s intent to develop an ASAT capability to target satellites in an altitude range that includes U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) and many U.S. military and intelligence satellites.§ In a potential conflict, this capability could allow China to threaten the U.S. military’s ability to detect foreign missiles and provide secure communications, navigation, and precision missile guidance."
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|