Five years ago, China conducted its first anti-satellite (ASAT) test – on January 11, 2007. Exactly three years later, China conducted a second ASAT test, which Beijing referred to as a missile defence test, on January 11, 2010.
And now, some days ago, China launched a large missile that reached 6,200 miles (10,000 km) above the earth, its highest suborbital launch since 1976, according to a US scientist at Harvard University.
A third ASAT test?
Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, said the rocket was launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in western China, and China said the rocket carried a science payload which studied the earth’s magnetosphere.
He said the rocket could be used in the future to carry an anti-satellite payload on a similar trajectory, but there was no evidence to show the launch was intended to test such a capability.
The United States remains concerned about China’s development of anti-satellite capabilities after it shot a missile at one of its own defunct satellites in orbit in 2007, creating an enormous amount of debris in space.
The latest Chinese rocket launch was like launches using the Blue Scout Junior rocket that were conducted by the U.S. Air Force in the 1960′s for research on the Earth’s magnetosphere, McDowell said in an emailed response to questions.
The launch came less than a week after US Deputy Defence Secretary Ashton Carter unveiled what he called a “long overdue” effort to safeguard US national security satellites and develop ways to counter the space capabilities of potential adversaries.
The Pentagon also released an 83-page report on Chinese military developments that highlighted China’s increasing space capabilities and said Beijing was pursuing a variety of activities for preventing its adversaries from using space-based assets during a crisis.
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the Chinese rocket launch.