2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test
Last updated on 26 October 2017
On January 11, 2007, China conducted an anti-satellite missile test. 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—was destroyed by a kinetic kill vehicle traveling with a speed of 8 km/s in the opposite direction (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. 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. China claims it formally notified the U.S., Japan and other countries about the test in advance.
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.
The New York Times, Washington Times and Jane's Intelligence Review 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.
A classified U.S. State Department cable revealed by Wikileaks indicates that the same system was tested against a ballistic target in January 2010 in what the Chinese government publicly described as a test of "ground-based midcourse missile interception technology". That description also closely matches the Chinese government's description of another test in January 2013, which has led some analysts to conclude that it was yet another test of the same ASAT system, again against a ballistic target and not a satellite.
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 had allowed the United States to pursue missile defenses, including space-based.
In response to US weaponization of space, the Chinese started a space defense program, including anti-satellite defense.
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. The SC-19 has been described as being based on a modified DF-21 ballistic missile 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 with a KT-1 rocket booster. The program is said to have been at least partially funded by China's 863 Program (specifically, the 863-409 focus area).
The closing velocity of the intercept was approximately 8 kilometers per second, comparable to the American National Missile Defense system.
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." China had publicly been advocating to ban space weapons, which had been rejected by the United States under George W. Bush.
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 non-functioning US satellite, which demonstrated 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. 
Space debris tracking
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). This event was the largest recorded creation of space debris in history with more than 2,000 pieces of trackable size (golf ball size and larger) officially cataloged in the immediate aftermath, and an estimated 150,000 debris particles. As of October 2016, a total of 3,438 pieces of debris had been detected, with 571 decayed and 2,867 still in orbit nine years after the incident.
They represent more than half of the tracked debris orbit the Earth with a mean altitude above 850 kilometres (530 mi), so they would likely remain in orbit for decades or centuries. Based on 2009 and 2013 calculations of solar flux, the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office estimated that around 30% of the larger-than-10 centimetres (3.9 in) debris would still be in orbit in 2035.
In April 2011, debris from the Chinese test passed 6km away from the International Space Station.
- Japan – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that nations "must use space peacefully."
- Russia – Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, stated that he considers reports on the Chinese anti-satellite missile test "exaggerated and abstract", reminding at the same time, that Russia always was against the militarisation of space.
- 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".
- United States – National 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."
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, 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.”
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.
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