Much to the chagrin of Russia and the United States, this Chinese robo-claw has successfully performed at least one satellite capture procedure in orbit. The satellite is officially recognized by the Chinese government as part of a larger program involving “scientific experimentation satellites,” but the intrinsic dual nature of the grabber technology has only fueled paranoia among top military brass. And other maneuvers haven’t helped.
In 2013, the Chinese launched a rocket they claimed was part of a scientific mission to study the earth’s magnetosphere. The only problem is that, according to the Pentagon, no objects were actually placed into orbit during this exercise. “We tracked several objects during the flight but did not observe the insertion of any objects into orbit, and no objects associated with this launch remain in space,” noted Lieutenant Colonel Monica Matoush, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
Victoria Samson, former Senior Analyst for the Center for Defense Information and current Washington Office director for the Secure World Foundation, explained the situation with an intentional slip of the tongue: “When the Chinese launched a missile — excuse me, a scientific test mission — to [geosynchronous orbit] in the summer of 2013, that got a lot of people worried.”
And China isn’t the only country participating in what might be construed as troubling behavior, either. The movements of several suspect Russian craft have recently received plenty of international condemnation.
One Russian satellite has made at least 11 approaches to its own defunct launch vehicle while in orbit. This suspect activity would appear to any onlooking military as obvious rendezvous and proximity testing. On one occasion, the satellite even collided intentionally with an upper stage rocket, “nudging” it into a higher orbit. This is troubling to military officials for obvious reasons: If a craft can nudge, it can quite easily knock a satellite out of orbit or collide with enough velocity to destroy it.
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