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Chinese Space Tests Could Put Critical Higher Orbit U.S. Military Satellites at Risk

Satellite Technology

Satellite Technology Feature Article

January 15, 2013

Chinese Space Tests Could Put Critical Higher Orbit U.S. Military Satellites at Risk

By David Gitonga, TMCnet Contributing Writer

China’s thriving labor market continues to be blamed for the economic woes in the United States. This time, however, China’s cheap labor market is not what’s worrying Washington, but rather expanding its military abilities.

It seems that China’s space initiatives could now be putting the most sensitive U.S. military and intelligence satellites at risk.

According to a classified intelligence assessment that analyzed China’s increasing activities and abilities in space, military communication satellites that warn about enemy missile launches and that provide precise targeting coordinates, owned by the United States, could be vulnerable to higher orbit anti-missile tests conducted by China.

Washington has been keeping a watchful eye on Beijing’s activities to ensure that U.S. satellites are not disrupted.

China’s anti-satellite activities have been seen as part of its military modernization efforts, including the testing of two stealth fighters and cyber attacks on foreign computer networks. In 2012, China launched more commercial and military satellites despite still lagging behind in most military fields.

The United States, however, has been viewing China as a potential threat that considers the technology a threat if the country wishes to.

According to Jonathan DcDowell of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, China is becoming a space superpower and has a significant military component to its space program. This has put the U.S. on alert as to possible threats to its most valued satellite systems in higher orbit, and the ability of China to deploy aggressive systems that put these satellites at risk.

According to Chinese sources, an upcoming anti-missile test has Washington “very concerned.” It is unlikely that China would repeat the 2007 test, which left space debris that pose a threat to other spacecraft and which resulted in a massive international outcry.

It is possible, however, that China could test such weapons in ways harder to detect, such as by jamming satellite signals from the ground or disabling one satellite using EMP from another satellite. It could also maneuver two satellites in higher orbit close together – something it has already done in lower orbits, and could be used for destructive purposes.

While the U.S operates its GPS satellites in medium Earth orbit about 11,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, its U.S. military communications and early missile warning satellites are 22,000 miles above in geostationary orbit.

While it had been assumed that these critical high orbit assets were safe from these kinds of attacks, Chinese tests at those higher orbits would put these satellites in jeopardy.

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