Sunday, February 17, 2008

China Complains About US Doing What China Did Months Ago

China is now complaining about a planned US mission to destroy a satellite that is schedule to reenter the Earth's atmosphere in early March before it could potentially expose people to a dangerous chemical on board (not to mention allow potentially sensitive US technology to fall to the Earth where it might be collected by enemies of the US).

China carried out an anti-satellite missile test against a Chinese satellite in orbit in January 2007. That test resulted in the destruction of the satellite, but it also created a serious hazard for spacecraft and satellites in the vicinity - hundreds of pieces of debris. Such space junk is a hazard to other satellites and spacecraft that are in related orbits.

There is no such worry with the US missile plan because the satellite affected is already falling out of orbit.

Some are already wondering what would happen if the US military fails to shoot down the satellite.
The order by President Bush for the Navy to launch an antimissile interceptor to destroy a disabled satellite before it falls from orbit carries opportunity, but also potential embarrassment, for the administration and advocates of its missile defense program.

The decision was described by senior officials as designed solely to protect populated areas from space debris, and not to showcase how the emerging missile defense arsenal could be reprogrammed to counter an unexpected threat: in this case hazardous rocket fuel aboard the dead satellite.

Even so, the attempt, expected within the next two weeks, will again throw into sharp relief the administration’s antipathy to treaties limiting antisatellite weapons, which puts the United States opposite China and Russia, which just this week proposed a new pact banning space weapons.
This is a serious real-world test of technologies that could be used in protecting the US against space-based weaponry. If the mission is successful, it could mean additional funding.

If it fails in a very public test, then it could mean significant problems for funding to the program. That said, even a failed test will result in data that will improve the current anti-missile US systems that are deployed.

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