Chinese SC-19 ASAT missile

Chinese SC-19 ASAT missile

A story from the Free Beacon states that China conducted a test of new anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon on Monday according to officials.  The missile, which was identified as the new Dong Ning-2 ASAT missile, was launched from the Xichang Space Launch center.  While Chinese authorities have not officially acknowledged the test, they have confirmed that a test of a sounding rocket was performed on Monday.  However, an official familiar with intelligence reports stated that it is very likely this was a disguised test of an ASAT and potentially represents a significant advance in Chinese abilities to interfere with both civilian and military satellites belonging to the United States.

According to a recent report, the rocket reached an altitude of 9978 km (6,200 miles), which is within the region of space known as medium-earth-orbit (MEO).  The Global Positioning System (GPS) resides within this region of space, but at a much higher altitude at approximately 19,000 km (12,000 miles).  While the altitude of the purported sounding rocket fell short of the altitude, it could represent a developing a direct-ascent ASAT capability to reach satellites in this region of space.  Moreover, despite the comments made by the official that this was the test of a direct-ascent ASAT, Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, claims that while the rocket used in the launch could possibly be used in the future to carry an ASAT on a similar trajectory, there was no evidence to indicate that the launch was intended to test such a capability.

China previously demonstrated an ASAT capability in 2007 when it used a SC-19 rocket to intercept and destroy one its weather satellites designated FY-1C.  The test and the resultant space debris created caused an international upheaval.  Moreover, the thousands of pieces of debris created by the 2007 test continue to threaten satellites, including the International Space Station (ISS).  It is unclear whether this test impacted a target satellite in orbit.  This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

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Michael J. Listner

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Michael is an attorney and the founder/principal of Space Law and Policy Solutions, which is a firm that counsels governmental and private organizations on matters relating to space law and policy, including issues surrounding space debris. Michael serves as the Vice-President of Legal Affairs for the International Space Safety Foundation and on January 1, 2013 assumed the role of President and CEO (Interim) for the ISSF. Michael formally served as Space Safety Magazine's Legal and Policy Editor and its General Counsel. Michael holds a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Computer Information Systems from Franklin Pierce University and obtained his Juris Doctorate (J.D.) from Regent University School of Law, and he is a member of the New Hampshire Bar. Michael can be contacted at [email protected] Follow Michael on Twitter @ponder68.