Though China claims to be peaceful, its actions as of late have caused quite the stir. From upping their military presence flying over Taiwan to record-setting space rockets launching satellites, they continue to maintain the stance of peace.
On Saturday, China launched another rocket with the Shijian-21 satellite that China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp claim is “tasked with demonstrating technologies to alleviate and neutralize space debris.” Yet China has shown no interest in space junk collection. In fact, they’ve been launching larger rockets and increasing the amount of space debris themselves.
A former imagery intelligence analyst and retired Indian Colonel Vinayak Bhat said that the launch was suspicious.
“This robotic arm technology is inherently dual use and would most certainly be used as a space weapon to capture and disable/destroy enemy satellites. China deploying such dual-use satellites strongly suggests [the Chinese Communist Party’s] intention to militarize space.”
The launch comes on the heels of what is a suspected recent test of a new hypersonic missile though Chinese officials claim it was a peaceful space experiment.
In April, Air Force General and commander of the U.S. Space Command James Dickinson told Congress that spacecraft like the Shijian-21 are part of an effort by China to seek “space superiority through space and space-attack systems.”
Shijian-17 is a satellite similar to Shijian-21, with a robotic arm capable of grabbing nearby objects. China maintains the stance that it is used for communications and monitoring space debris.
The apparent goal is to collect and destroy space trash, but it could just as easily be used for nefarious purposes, like taking down an enemy satellite. It is unknown if China is actually collecting debris or just keeping track of it.
General Dickinson agrees,
“One notable object is the Shijian-17, a Chinese satellite with a robotic arm. Space-based robotic arm technology could be used in a future system for grappling other satellites.”
He is convinced that the co-orbital robotic spacecraft is part of a growing arsenal of space weaponry fielded by the Chinese military.
China had already launched Shijian-15 in 2013, drawing the attention of the United States after they discovered the satellite had a robotic arm with a pincher on the end.
Many Chinese space weapons are already in play: several types of ground-launched anti-satellite missiles capable of hitting satellites in low-, medium- and high-altitude orbits, and electronic jammers and lasers.
China is accused of disguising its space weaponry as benevolent.
General Dickinson isn’t fooled. “We see their capabilities from direct-ascent ASAT, anti-satellite capabilities, to on-orbit activity that they’ve done with that capability. All the while, China continues to maintain their public stance against the weaponization of space.”
The launch marks the 39th launch for China this year, tying the record set in 2018 and matched in 2020. They are on schedule to launch several more before the end of the year.
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