Chinese Demonstrates Satellite to Satellite Rendezvous, Inspection Test Bed for Duel Purpose Military Technology
On June 15, 2010 China launched on a Long March-2D booster from the Jiuquan satellite launch center with the SJ-12, Shi Jian-12 Shijian-11-02, secret S&T research satellite for conducting a rendezvous maneuvering technology and satellite inspection demonstration utilizing the SJ-6F Shi Jian-6F as the target satellite. The implications are that China has now demonstrated they have developed satellite inspection and orbit to orbit ASAT capability without creating a debris field. The slow series of maneuvers between June 21 and August 11-19, 2010 demonstrated the slowness of the proximity approach for inspection and or ASAT mission’s requirements. Because SJ-6F Shi Jian-6F orbit was disturbed on the August 19, 2010 proximity approach by SJ-12, Shi Jian-12 Shijian-11-02 it would appear that there may have been contact between the two satellites with no resulting debris identified. This military rendezvous technology demonstration serves both the human crewed program Shenzhou-8, Tiangong-1 rendezvous technology needed as well as the military mission duel purpose requirements of both military operations.
China conducted a maneuvering small satellite test in 2010, which also was deemed an ASAT-related experiment. Two Chinese satellites rendezvoused several hundred miles above Earth in August 2010 as part of what was viewed by officials as a contribution to the anti-satellite weapons program. The Pentagon said at the time, “Our analysts determined there are two Chinese satellites in close proximity of each other. We do not know if they have made physical contact. The Chinese have not contacted us regarding these satellites.” The two satellites also maneuvered during the Aug. 22, 2010 encounter. Based on the behavior, it appeared one of the satellites made contact with another satellite causing it to change orbits. The two satellites were estimated to have been as close as 200 meters to each other.
China’s military launched three small satellites into orbit as part of Beijing’s covert anti-satellite warfare program, according to a US official. The three satellites, launched 20 July 2013 by a Long March-4C launcher, were later detected conducting unusual maneuvers in space. One of the satellites was reported to be equipped with an extension arm capable of attacking orbiting satellites that currently are vulnerable to both kinetic and electronic disruption.
Details of the small satellite activity were first reported last week in the blog “War is Boring.” The posting stated that one of the satellites was monitored “moving all over the place” and appeared to make close-in passes with other orbiting satellites. “It was so strange, space analysts wondered whether China was testing a new kind of space weapon?—?one that could intercept other satellites and more or less claw them to death,” the report said.
According to space researchers who tracked the satellites movements, one of the satellites on Aug. 16 lowered its orbit by about 93 miles. It then changed course and rendezvoused with a different satellite. The two satellites reportedly passed within 100 meters of each other. One space researcher was quoted in the online report as saying one satellite was equipped with a “robot-manipulator arm developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.” The designation used in the blog, SY-7 was not correct.
In July 2013, China launched a rocket carrying the CX–3, SY–7, and SJ–15 satellites, one of which was equipped with a robotic arm for grabbing or capturing items in space. Once all three were in orbit, the satellite with the robotic arm grappled one of the other satellites, which was acting as a target satellite. The satellite with the robotic arm then changed orbits and came within proximity of a separate satellite, the SJ–7, an older Chinese satellite that was orbited in 2005.103 Robotic arms can be used for civilian missions such as satellite repair, space station construction, and orbital debris removal; they also can attach to a target satellite to perform various antisatellite missions.
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