Eighteen days after the Chinese Communists tested their satellite-killer, the Hubble telescope went dark. It’s possible these events are related, but even if they aren’t, the Chinese have shown they can interdict near-earth space, where our intel satellites fly.
I initially figured the Chinese weapon was a paper tiger, since using it would be a very expensive act of war. But they may be smarter than I thought.
The test and its aftermath (my ellipsis):
The Chinese test, carried out on Jan. 11, was at once complex and very simple. An old weather satellite, passing 537 miles overhead, was targeted by a missile launched from a Chinese military base. The missile hit the satellite with deadly precision. The missile carried no bomb because it didn’t need one. The satellite was pulverized by the impact.
But what followed was chaos in space. As of today, Kelso (a surveillance specialist) reports that American radar is tracking at least 525 pieces of debris from the collision — each at least the size of a baseball.
There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller ones.
The pieces are gradually spreading out in a ring around the Earth, creating a vast area where spacecraft face increased danger of being hit.
“We’ve already seen in the range of 500 to 600 events where some piece of debris from this one event was coming within 5 kilometers [about 3 miles] of some payload,” said Kelso.
Debris much smaller than the size of a baseball can knock out a satellite, and 18 days later:
The primary camera on the Hubble Space Telescope has shut down and is likely to be only marginally restored, NASA said Monday, a collapse one astronomer called “a great loss”…An initial investigation determined its backup power supply had failed, NASA said.
The Hubble needs servicing, so this may be coincidence. But it’s a reminder that China could, with a few more such “tests”, apparently innocently sterilize the 400 to 500 mile orbital band that’s used by our intel satellites.
That probably this explains this tough reaction (my emphasis):
The Bush administration has suspended plans to develop space ventures with China, including joint exploration of the moon, in reaction to Beijing’s Jan. 11 test of an anti-satellite weapon that left orbiting debris threatening U.S. and foreign satellites.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration spokesman Jason Sharp said the weapon test undermined an agreement reached between President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao during an April summit.
“We believe China’s development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the constructive relationship that our presidents have outlined, including on civil space cooperation,” Mr. Sharp said.
He said there were “some initial discussions looking at where there were mutual interests where we could cooperate with the Chinese,” but there are no plans for future discussions. The two presidents had hoped to work on joint moon exploration and space-debris avoidance.
I hope we’re deploying lots of surveillance UAVs to Taiwan – our intel satellites could be a wasting asset.