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The 2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test was conducted by China on January 11, 2007. A Chinese weather satellite—the FY-1C polar orbit satellite of the Fengyun series, at an altitude of 865 kilometres (537 mi), with a mass of 750 kg[1]—was destroyed by a kinetic kill vehicle traveling with a speed of 8 km/s in the opposite direction[2] (see Head-on engagement). It was launched with a multistage solid-fuel missile from Xichang Satellite Launch Center or nearby.

Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine first reported the test. The report was confirmed on January 18, 2007 by a United States National Security Council (NSC) spokesman.[3] At first the Chinese government did not publicly confirm whether or not the test had occurred; but on January 23, 2007, the Chinese Foreign Ministry officially confirmed that a test had been conducted.[4] China claims it formally notified the U.S., Japan and other countries about the test in advance.[5] It was the first known successful satellite intercept test since 1985, when the United States conducted a similar anti-satellite missile test using an ASM-135 ASAT to destroy the P78-1 satellite.[6]

The New York Times,[7] Washington Times[8] and Jane's Intelligence Review[9] reported that this came on the back of at least two previous direct-ascent tests that intentionally did not result in an intercept, on July 7, 2005 and February 6, 2006.[10]

Background[edit | edit source]

In January 2001, a (US) congressionally mandated space commission headed by Donald Rumsfeld recommended that “the U.S. government should vigorously pursue the capabilities called for in the National Space Policy to ensure that the president will have the option to deploy weapons in space to deter threats to, and, if necessary, defend against attacks on U.S. interests."

Moreover, the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 has given the United States a free hand to move forward with missile defenses, and space-based missile defenses

In response to US weaponisation of space, the Chinese started a space defense program, including anti-satellite defense.[11]

Weaponry[edit | edit source]

The Chinese anti-satellite system has been named by the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Maples, in a Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing as the SC-19.[12] The SC-19 has been described as being based on a modified DF-21 ballistic missile or its commercial derivative, the KT-2 with a Kinetic Kill Vehicle mounted. The ASAT kill vehicle relies on an imaging infrared seeker and also has been described as a modified HQ-19 surface-to-air missile. The program is said to have been at least partially funded by China's 863 Program (specifically, the 863-409 focus area).[13] The closing velocity of the intercept was approximately 8 kilometers per second, comparable to the American National Missile Defense system.[14]


A sample image taken by FY-1C. Received by the Center for Earth Observing and Space Research at George Mason University.[15]

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

Known orbit planes of Fengyun-1C debris one month after its disintegration by the Chinese ASAT (orbits exaggerated for visibility)

Several nations responded negatively to the test and highlighted the serious consequences of engaging in the militarisation of space. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao stated, "There's no need to feel threatened about this" and argued that "China will not participate in any kind of arms race in outer space."[16][17] Ironically, China had been long advocating to ban space weapons, which had been rejected by the United States under George W. Bush.[7]

Anti-satellite missile tests, especially ones involving kinetic kill vehicles as in this case, contribute to the formation of orbital space debris which can remain in orbit for many years and could interfere with future space activity (Kessler Syndrome).[6] The test is the largest recorded creation of space debris in history with at least 2,317 pieces of trackable size (golf ball size and larger) and an estimated 150,000 debris particles.[18][19]

The United States of America had not tested an anti-satellite weapon since 1985. In February 2008 the US launched its own strike to destroy a malfunctioning US satellite, which demonstrated to the world that it also had the capability to strike in space, though at a much lower altitude than the Chinese test. The US claims that the strike was not a military test but a necessary mission to remove the threat posed by the decaying orbit of a faulty spy satellite with a full tank of hydrazine fuel. [20]

In April 2011, debris from the Chinese test passed close by the International Space Station.[21]

On January 22, 2013, the Russian Ball Lens In The Space (BLITS) nano-satellite was destroyed by the debris.[22]

Response[edit | edit source]

Official responses[edit | edit source]

  •  Japan – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that nations "must use space peacefully."[3]
  •  United Kingdom – A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters that British officials had raised the matter with China. "We are concerned about the impact of debris in space and we expressed that concern," he said. However he also said that "We don't believe that this does contravene international law".[24]
  • United StatesNational Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, who confirmed that the test had occurred, stated that the United States "believes China's development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area."[3][25]

Unofficial or indirectly related responses[edit | edit source]

Desmond Ball of the Australian National University while commenting on China’s anti-satellite (ASAT) test of January, 2007 said: “China's ASAT test of 11 January involved a fairly primitive system, limited to high-inclination LEO satellites. It is the sort of capability available to any country with a store of MRBMs/IRBMs or satellite launch vehicles, and a long-range radar system, such as Japan, India, Pakistan, Iran and even North Korea. However, its LEO coverage does include some extremely valuable satellites, including imaging and ELINT satellites, and the test is likely to generate reactions in several countries.”[26]

Related treaties[edit | edit source]

The Outer Space Treaty banned weapons of mass destruction in orbit and outer space but does not ban conventional weaponry in orbit. It is ratified by 98 countries, including China, and signed by 27 others.[27]

The Space Preservation Treaty has been proposed to the United States House of Representatives by Congressman Dennis Kucinich four times, as of 15 April 2014 (2014-04-15), to ban space weapons, however as of April 2014, no country has ratified it.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Nicholson, Brendon (January 20, 2007). "World fury at satellite destruction". The Age. Melbourne. Archived from the original on February 22, 2011. http://www.webcitation.org/5whIOfFlv. 
  2. Is China's Satellite Killer a Threat? (Tech Talk) Archived 22 February 2011 at WebCite
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 BBC News (2007). Concern over China's missile test. Retrieved January 20, 2007. Archived 22 February 2011 at WebCite
  4. "China admits satellite shot down". BBC News. January 23, 2007. Archived from the original on February 22, 2011. http://www.webcitation.org/5whIR4xbG. Retrieved January 23, 2007. 
  5. "China confirms anti-satellite missile test". The Guardian. London. January 23, 2007. Archived from the original on February 22, 2011. http://www.webcitation.org/5whIRy74c. Retrieved January 23, 2007. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Covault, Craig (January 21, 2007). "China's Asat Test Will Intensify U.S.-Chinese Faceoff in Space". Aviation Week. Archived from the original on 27 January 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070127122105/http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_generic.jsp?channel=awst&id=news/aw012207p2.xml. Retrieved January 21, 2007. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Gordon, Michael R.; Cloud, David S. (April 23, 2007). "U.S. Knew of China’s Missile Test, but Kept Silent". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/23/washington/23satellite.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&ref=asia&pagewanted=print&adxnnlx=1177412634-gIokCeqAhuEUTz6obSrvpQ. Retrieved April 24, 2007. 
  8. "Officials fear war in space by China". The Washington Times. January 24, 2007. Archived from the original on January 26, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070126091518/http://www.washingtontimes.com/national/20070124-121536-8225r.htm. Retrieved February 19, 2007. 
  9. "Space to manoeuvre – Satellite attack upsets US space supremacy". Jane's Intelligence Review. February 7, 2007. Archived from the original on 5 March 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070305030425/http://jir.janes.com/public/jir/chinawatch.shtml. Retrieved February 19, 2007.  Or see archived version: WebCite query result
  10. Joan Johnson-Freese. Heavenly Ambitions: America's Quest to Dominate Space. p. 12
  11. http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2005_12/DEC-CVR
  12. "Senator Clinton Questions Vice Admiral John M. McConnell, USN (ret), Director of National Intelligence and Lieutenant General Michael Maples, USA, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at a Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Worldwide Threats". February 27, 2007. Archived from the original on March 30, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070330225204/http://www.senate.gov/~clinton/news/statements/details.cfm?id=269792. Retrieved April 24, 2007. 
  13. Ian Easton, The Great Game in Space: China's Evolving ASAT Weapons Programs and Their Implications for Future U.S. Strategy, Project 2049 Occasional Paper, June 24, 2009, p.2., [1][dead link]
  14. How China Loses the Coming Space War (Pt. 1) Archived 4 September 2009 at WebCite
  15. CEOSR Satellite Receiving Station Archived 22 February 2011 at WebCite
  16. "China says space programme is no threat". Agence France Presse. January 19, 2007. http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20070119/ts_afp/chinaspacemilitaryfm. Retrieved January 22, 2007. [dead link]
  17. New York Times (2007). China Shows Assertiveness in Weapons Test. Retrieved January 21, 2007.
  18. "Chinese ASAT Test". Archived from the original on 23 April 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070423040143/http://www.centerforspace.com/asat/. Retrieved April 18, 2007. 
  19. "ISS crew take to escape capsules in space junk alert". BBC. March 24, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17497766. Retrieved March 24, 2012. 
  20. "America threatened China over 'star wars'". smh. February 4, 2011. Archived from the original on 9 July 2011. http://web.archive.org/web/20110709183524/http://www.smh.com.au/world/america-threatened-china-over-star-wars-20110203-1affj.html. Retrieved July 8, 2011. 
  21. "NASA monitoring space junk near International Space Station". CNN. April 5, 2011. http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/04/05/space.station.debris/index.html?hpt=T2. Retrieved April 5, 2011. 
  22. "The Rise of Chinese Space Junk."
  23. "Sergei Ivanov considers reports on the rocket launch by China, that destroyed a satellite, exaggerated" (in Russian). Voice of Russia. January 20, 2007. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070930022249/http://www.vor.ru/index.phtml?id=4452. 
  24. Agence France-Presse (January 19, 2007). "Britain Concerned By Chinese Satellite Shoot-Down". Spacedaily.com. Archived from the original on February 22, 2011. http://www.webcitation.org/5whITFZTG. 
  25. Kestenbaum, David (January 19, 2007). "Chinese Missile Destroys Satellite in 500-Mile Orbit". National Public Radio. Archived from the original on February 22, 2011. http://www.webcitation.org/5whITcLDl. 
  26. "Assessing China's ASAT program". Nautilus Institute at RMIT. http://rmit.nautilus.org/forum-reports/0714s-ball/#n2. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  27. Outer Space Treaty. United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs Archived 22 February 2011 at WebCite

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