China's space activities raise US satellite concerns

Featured - January 15th, 2013

China’s expanding space activities could threaten US military and intelligence satellites, according to a classified US intelligence assessment, heightening concerns from Washington as Beijing seeks to become a ‘space superpower’.

According to a US intelligence report, Beijing has expanded its anti-satellite activities and they now have the ability of disrupting the most sensitive US satellites that provide secure military communications, warn ofearly missile launches and provide precise targeting coordinates.

Gregory Kulacki, a researcher with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said earlier this month that there was “a strong possibility” of a new anti-satellite technology test by China.

The Pentagon said it was aware of reports of China’s plan while a US defense official said Washington was “very concerned” about the anti-satellite test.

“We monitor carefully China’s military developments and urge China to exhibit greater transparency regarding its capabilities and intentions,” says Lieutenant Colonel Monica Matoush from the Pentagon.

China has conducted several anti-satellite tests at lower orbital levels but further tests at higher altitudes would be troubling and could put US satellites at risk, US officials and space experts said.

The US operates Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites in a medium orbit about 11,000 miles (17,700 km) above the surface of the earth, while US military communications and early missile warning satellites are located in geostationary orbit 22,000 miles (35,400 km) above the equator.

Washington said it is closely keeping an eye on China’s anti-satellite developments which the US claims are part of a major military modernization, Reuters reports.

“What we’re seeing is a heightened sense in the United States that China is a potential threat and that it has the technology to be a threat if it wishes to,” says Jonathan McDowell, with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.