The Chinese space program carried out its ninth-ever satellite launch on Wednesday morning, on a much-vaunted Long March 5 rocket that is also used for military purposes. The launch is part of Beijing’s campaign to launch a variety of military satellites and to test long-range missiles. The launch also occurs as tensions between China and the United States — rival powers with substantial interests in space — ramp up.
Previous satellite launches have been successfully performed by Chinese satellites, but the latest mission has renewed tensions. In 2015, the U.S. and China filed an amicus brief in the International Court of Justice, a case brought on behalf of the United Nations, in support of a U.S. satellite that had been placed in orbit. China, along with India, Russia, and the United States, had filed the brief arguing that the satellite, launched from the Marshall Islands, was used to carry out military surveillance operations and illegally interfered with satellites from three countries: the United States, China, and India. In the brief, the countries were represented by the current ambassadors of their respective countries.
The main stumbling block in Wednesday’s launch has been reusability of the rocket, an issue that is also important for low-orbit military satellites that are hard to refuel. China has been developing its reusable rockets since 2005, the Telegraph reports, but it has delayed the launch several times as it develops the technology. A launch this close to a December deadline led many analysts to question the launch, but China has proceeded with the mission nonetheless.
Of course, the potential for space weapons was a longstanding theme of the Space Force, the U.S. Defense Department’s unannounced program to bolster its control of space. The idea of a space-faring country establishing rival satellites with advanced weapons capability to threaten the space-based U.S. military systems has been a concern since Trump announced his plans to create the Space Force in June. Given that China could argue that the United States already possesses space-based surveillance capabilities, it is not surprising that Beijing would also be interested in developing a satellite that could launch its own sophisticated spy satellites.
According to a National Interest article, there are specific limits that must be met to use space weapons in a combat situation. Rather than launch a kinetic warhead (a type of weapon that destroys what it hits), a space weapon would need to seek to do damage in the absence of a target, a development that could have implications for countries like China and Iran that are at least partly developed as proxies for other powers in that region.
Read the full story at The Telegraph.
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