U. S. intelligence agencies believe China performed a successful anti-satellite (asat) weapons test at more than 500 mi. altitude Jan. 11 destroying an aging Chinese weather satellite target with a kinetic kill vehicle launched on board a ballistic missile.
The Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, NASA and other government organizations have a full court press underway to obtain data on the alleged test.
If the test is verified it will signify a major new Chinese military capability.
Neither the Office of the U. S. Secretary of Defense nor Air Force Space Command would comment on the attack, which followed by several months the alleged illumination of a U. S. military spacecraft by a Chinese ground based laser.
China’s growing military space capability is one major reason the Bush Administration last year formed the nation’s first new National Space Policy in ten years, Aviation Week will report in its Jan. 22 issue.
“The policy is designed to ensure that our space capabilities are protected in a time of increasing challenges and threats,” says Robert G. Joseph, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security at the U. S. State Dept.
“This is imperative because space capabilities are vital to our national security and to our economic well being,” Joseph said in an address on the new space policy at the National Press Club in Washington D. C.
Details emerging from space sources indicate that the Chinese Feng Yun 1C (FY-1C) polar orbit weather satellite launched in 1999 was attacked by an asat system launched from or near the Xichang Space Center.
The attack is believed to have occurred as the weather satellite flew at 530 mi. altitude 4 deg. west of Xichang located in Sichuan province. Xichang is a major Chinese space launch center.
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.
U. S. Air Force Defense Support Program missile warning satellites in geosynchronous orbit would have detected the Xichang launch of the asat kill vehicle and U. S. Air Force Space Command monitored the FY-1C orbit both before and after the exercise.
The test, if it occurred as envisioned by intelligence source, could also have left considerable space debris in an orbit used by many different satellites.
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.
Although more of a “policy weapon” at this time, the test shows that the Chinese military can threaten the imaging reconnaissance satellites operated by the U. S., Japan, Russia, Israel and Europe.
The Republic of China also operates a small imaging spacecraft that can photograph objects as small as about 10 ft. in size, a capability good enough to count cruise missiles pointed at Taiwan from the Chinese mainland. The Taiwanese in the past have also leased capability on an Israeli reconnaissance satellite.