“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,” said Jonathan McDowell, with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
“As China becomes a space superpower, and given that it does have a significant military component to its space program, it is inevitable that the U.S. will be concerned about threats to its most valued satellite systems, whether or not China actually intends to deploy such aggressive systems,” he said.
CREATING SPACE DEBRIS
Six years ago, on January 11, 2007, China destroyed one of its own defunct weather satellites in low-earth orbit, which created over 10,000 pieces of debris that pose a threat to other spacecraft. A less-destructive test followed on January 11, 2010.
Space experts and U.S. officials say they expect China to continue testing anti-satellite technologies, although they doubt it would repeat the 2007 test, given the massive international outcry it triggered.
Gregory Kulacki, a respected researcher with the Union of Concerned Scientists, reported earlier this month on the group’s website that there was “a strong possibility” of a new anti-satellite test by China within the next few weeks.
He said Chinese sources had told him in November that an announcement about an upcoming anti-satellite test had been circulated within the Chinese government, and a high-ranking U.S. defense official confirmed in December that Washington was “very concerned” about an imminent Chinese anti-satellite test.
The Chinese Defense Ministry did not respond to emailed queries by Reuters’ Beijing office on the question.