The Chinese Connection
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Chinese Test Anti-Satellite Weapon

Jan 17, 2007
By Craig Covault/Aviation Week & Space Technology

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, Aviation Week & Space Technology will report in its Jan. 22 issue.

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.

SOURCE: Aviation Week

Note: Many readers have asked how this event compares to last month's Chinese anti-sat test, which shattered a derelict satellite in low-Earth orbit producing more than 700 catalogued fragments. The Briz-M event could be worse--or not. It depends on the size and distribution of the 1000+ fragments. Ongoing radar studies will provide a better answer in the days and weeks ahead. 

China's Anti-Satellite Test: Worrisome Debris Cloud Circles Earth

Chinese ASAT Test

Chinese ASAT Test

Coverage started 2007 January 19  Updated 2007 September 26

Several sources have reported a Chinese ASAT test was carried out against the Chinese FENGYUN 1C polar-orbiting weather satellite on 2007 January 11. For details, see:

These reports were confirmed by the Chinese government on January 23:
In order to illustrate the circumstances of this attack, I have produced an AGI Viewer file (see bottom of this page for more information on AGI Viewer) which confirms the basic facts reported by AW&ST. It shows the period from 2007 January 11 at 22:26:10 UTC (which analysis shows as the most likely time of the event, slightly different than the time of 22:28 UTC reported by AW&ST) until January 12 at 0600 UTC. The orbit of FENGYUN 1C (pre-attack) is shown in red and the location of the Xichang Space Center is also shown. I am also providing a Google Earth location file for the Xichang Space Center, with recently released details of the launch complex and surrounding facilities.

FENGYUN 1C and the other pieces of debris now catalogued by NORAD are shown in green. From this animation, it is easy to see the spread of the resulting debris cloud for the first couple of orbits. It should be noted that the spread of debris at the time of the event is due to the error associated with propagating the TLEs back from the time they were released to the time of the event.


Screen shot from AGI Viewer file of Chinese ASAT scenario (five minutes post-attack)
View of ISS Orbit (green) and Debris Ring (red) from Chinese ASAT Test
View of LEO Satellites (green) and Debris Ring (red) from Chinese ASAT Test
View of All Satellites including Debris Ring from Chinese ASAT Test Readily Visible
As of 2007 September 25 (another 160 TLEs were released on this date), 2,247 pieces of debris—including whatever's left of the original payload—have been catalogued by NORAD. That makes this event the largest debris-generating event on record—far surpassing the 713 pieces cataloged when the Pegasus rocket body that launched STEP 2 exploded on 1996 June 3. NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office estimates more than 35,000 pieces of debris larger than 1 cm from this event:
Expanded coverage of CSSI analysis:  SOURCE and More Data including Animations: CELESTRAK
China's Anti-Satellite Test: Worrisome Debris Cloud Circles Earth

By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer
posted: 2 February 2007

The flotsam created by China's anti-satellite test last month is on the radar screens of space debris analysts, as well as space policy experts.

The intentional destruction on Jan. 11 of China's Fengyun-1C weather satellite via an anti-satellite (ASAT) device launched by the Chinese has created a mess of fragments fluttering through space.

The satellite's destruction is now being viewed as the most prolific and severe fragmentation in the course of five decades of space operations.

Lobbed into space atop a ballistic missile, the ASAT destroyed the weather-watching satellite that had been orbiting Earth since May 10, 1999 [image]. The result was littering Earth orbit with hundreds upon hundreds of various sizes of shrapnel.

Most prolific and serious fragmentation

Johnson said that the debris cloud extends from less than 125 miles (200 kilometers) to more than 2,292 miles (3,850 kilometers), encompassing all of low Earth orbit. The majority of the debris have mean altitudes of 528 miles (850 kilometers) or greater, "which means most will be very long-lived," he said.

The number of smaller orbital debris from this breakup is much higher than the 900-plus being tracked. NASA estimates that the number of debris larger than 1 centimeter is greater than 35,000 bits of riff-raff. 


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