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Chinese Satellite Observed Grappling Another and Pulling It Out of Orbit

Sunday January 30, 2022. 06:34 PM , from Slashdot
Last week a Chinese satellite 'was observed grabbing another satellite and pulling it out of its normal geosynchronous orbit,' reports the Drive, 'and into a 'super-graveyard drift orbit.''

'The maneuver raises questions about the potential applications of these types of satellites designed to maneuver close to other satellites for inspection or manipulation and adds to growing concerns about China's space program overall.'

On January 22, China's Shijian-21 satellite, or SJ-21, disappeared from its regular position in orbit during daylight hours when observations were difficult to make with optical telescopes. SJ-21 was then observed executing a 'large maneuver' to bring it closely alongside another satellite, a dead BeiDou Navigation System satellite. SJ-21 then pulled the dead satellite out of its normal geosynchronous orbit and placed it a few hundred miles away in what is known as a graveyard orbit. These distant orbits are designated for defunct satellites at the end of their lives and are intended to reduce the risk of collision with operational assets....

According to Chinese state news outlets, SJ-21 was designed to 'test and verify space debris mitigation technologies.'

SJ-21's recent maneuver raises questions and concerns about these types of satellites and their potential for military use. Todd Harrison, director of CSIS's Aerospace Project, told Breaking Defense that SJ-21's actions present 'more questions than answers,' adding that while we can observe the satellite's actions, 'the intent behind it and what China plans to do with this technology is a more subjective assessment.'

This isn't the first time SJ-21 has made headlines with its questionable behavior. In November 2021, just a month after its launch, an unknown object was seen orbiting alongside SJ-21. At the time, Space Force designated the unidentified object as a spent apogee kick motor, but it was also reported that it might have been an experimental payload designed to test SJ-21's ability to perform remote operations and manipulate other satellites....

Analyzing the potential applications of these dual-use satellites is difficult.

Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader schwit1 for submitting the story!

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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