Chinese Satellite Grabs Another in Orbit

Long March-4C

A Chinese satellite used a robotic arm to capture another in space as part of a covert weapons program, according to a news report.

The maneuver took place last week and involved one of three small satellites launched in July, according to an article by Bill Gertz, a reporter for the Washington Free Beacon, an online investigative news organization.

The U.S. Defense Department has been monitoring the movement of the Chinese satellites, according to Cynthia Smith, a spokeswoman at the Pentagon, according to the report. U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Combatant Command for Space has observed the relative motions of the objects, she told the reporter.

The experimental satellites were identified as Chuangxin-3, which is translated as Innovation-3; Shiyan-7, or Experiment-7, the one believed to have the mechanical arm; and Shijian-15, or Practice-15, according to the article. They were launched in a Long March-4C rocket on July 20 from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern China, according to the report.

U.S. military and intelligence officials are increasingly concerned over China’s so-called anti-satellite systems.

In 2007, China fired a missile into space and destroyed a weather satellite. The incident “was a seminal event in world attention” and created some 3,000 pieces of orbital debris, according to the Defense Department’s 2011 space strategy.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • Lance

    If this was1960 id be shocked but its 2013 who cares. We know they can launch satellites.

    • Dfens

      You are supposed to be shocked. How can it possibly be that some country other than ours can launch satellites and make them do whatever they want them to do? We’re the only ones who are supposed to be able to do that — forever. If China isn’t careful, they will disturb our status quo where our military serves as a conduit to supply money to our defense contractors instead of keeping this nation safe.

    • Tim Ho

      You might care if their robotic arm puts the snatch and grab on the GPS emitting satellites that direct your Garmin … or if our military suddenly becomes ‘blind’ as all the see where all the troops are peering through the dust of war electronics fails. Geesh

  • Space Vacuum

    Cool. If the Chinese were smart….. They would introduce a motion at the UN requiring all nations that have launched objects in space to pay into an international clean up fund based on how much junk you have up there. They would then commercialize this system and use it to collect all the space junk floating around up there. The benefit is they would get other nations to help fund this technology and they would perfect it’s ability to track down and capture the junk in an automated format. And they could use of all the research/experience from this “commercial adventure” to use in a militarized hunter/tracker system…….Of course the US could do the same thing but they are to busy bickering and throwing temper tantrums in the Congress/Senate over the shutdown to even consider it. …..

    • gar

      Actually, you are right on. They are business savvy and not any different then us. They just manage things differently. They have no serious history of international offensive military activity, defensive/offense yes, Korea. They have no serious history of taking territory and possessing it, except what they perceive as being historically theirs for thousands of years. Unlike us, they have thousands of years of civil wars, not just one. Unlike us, their traditional culture was colonized by Europeans, including us. Their culture suffered serious damage by Europeans purposefully inserting opium into their society for Tea profits. I personally opine that they are defensive in nature and some of the World’s best business people. They love to make tons of cash and gamble it.

    • junk

      They might as well first clean up the junk of their irresponsible satellite kill-test before going commercial…

      • peters

        Why should they? We’ve never cleaned up ours, which are tons more than theirs.

    • Citizen of the world
    • terry7170

      It’s one thing to think like that but it’s completely insane to publicize it. Too much loose talk from the very people that should know better.

    • A-kill
    • A-kill
    • A-kill
    • dan

      I think were all in for it. Everyone wants a piece of us and freedom in democracy is a upstream battle it seems so, it might be time to say America Wake Up, but they wont, too many stuck with a gleeming retirement plan theyre worried about or a i pad shuved in a baby bottle theyre sucking on.

  • blight_

    Dare I ask if the spaceplane was intended to do this kind of thing?

  • Peril

    You’ve got to admire their work ethic; they’re really going for it. Right now, the US government couldn’t organise a p*** up in a brewery

    • Musson

      I bet their Space Agency’s primary focus is not outreach to the Moslem world.

      • Dfens

        I’ll bet the purpose of their military isn’t to funnel as much money as possible to several huge, well connected defense contractor corporations too.

        • Charles P,

          Actually, the Chinese defense establishment is highly corrupt. Carry on with your ill informed huffing and puffing though. Very impressive.

  • Derek

    To: Peril
    Hit the “submit Comment” button ONCE!

    • Bernard

      On cell phones it gives errors making you think it didn’t post when it did. This forum needs to be fixed. I’d lend a hand in that for a very reasonable fee.

  • femtobeam

    So…what is the projected timeframe for this Chinese anti-satellite system to destroy all Earth orbiting satellite systems? Clearly, with the combination of debris, satellites armed with robotics, and lasers which shoot them down, and the high costs and long development times, fiber optics and quick launch small satellites like Google’s Loon Balloons will be the only cheap and quick alternative for communications systems hybrids. From a military perspective, this poses a real danger to theater blackouts.

    At what point does fiber sniffing intrusions, theft of critical and classified weapons designs, and now destruction of satellite systems…become an act of war?

    • Rest Pal

      Don’t buy into the propaganda designed to induce more wasteful funding at taxpayers’ expense.

      It’s just a satellite used for doing repairs. In the long run, China and other peaceful countries do need to develop defensive mechanisms in space to counter terrorist actions from rogue states that constantly wage wars, arm rebels, instigate conflicts, spy on foreign leaders, and engage in unilateral actions against international law – such as trying to invade Syria or Iran.

    • shoot ur load

      it wasn’t destruction of OUR satellite. It was one of their own…. not much we can say about that as we (USA) and Russia have both conducted (long ago) anti satellite missile tests that also contributed greatly to space debris.

  • Rest Pal

    America is a country where the people want the right to vote and don’t have the brains to vote, and where politicians want the power to govern and don’t have the brains to govern.

    Perhaps America would be better off as a colony of QE2 without any voting rights. (after paying off ALL of its debts to creditors, with land if necessary)

  • Scary, next make move on US sats IE GPS arrays, Intel sats, Commsats & were in trouble BIG time.

    • blight_

      And do what? Take it back to earth? China already has the Beidou up and running.

      Unless you propose that the PRC is going to deliberately pull satellites out of orbit…which is possible. Don’t know if the US is ready to defend its satellites and fight off enemy satellites. We do have ASAT missiles…I guess we will have to defend our satellite constellations from the ground.

      • space vacuum

        All it would need to do is attach a few pounds of explosives to each military satellite with remote triggering. Push one big red mushroom button, all the satellites go dead. On the other hand if they just attached a small thruster rocket to each satellite, they could fire it off causing the satellite to start oscillating just enough to make un-usable. If they can make the satellite out of stealth material, it could go anywhere in space without being seen….

        • Musson

          With recent advancements in laser power – I think you could sit her on the ground and blind most satellites at the speed of light.

          • blight_

            That would be true of imaging satellites (Keyhole, Corona, KH-replacements, DSP satellites), but if you wanted to take down GPS or SAR satellites…

  • Docsenko

    Navy has proven it can be done by a fightern with the right missile. With all the junk up there it is amazing we have any left.

  • mi1400

    If it was 60s i would have been amazed seen americans landing on runway soming from space… hell who care their thudding idown in ocean even 2013.

  • Speedy

    One arm, one satelite (So far).
    Hundreds of thousands of bits of junk up there floating around…

    If they get two, If they equip them with Ping pong padles (National sport tie in), they could have the best game of Pong EVER!!!!

    • Rest Pal

      and charge the US a few million bucks for each piece cleaned up.

  • Dfens

    It’s a good thing we got rid of the SR-71so we could rely on the “cheaper” satellites and that piece of crap cash cow for Lockheed Martin the shoot down prone U-2. Get rid of an airplane that’s never been shot down so you can continue to operate vehicles that are easy to shoot down. Brilliant.

  • Thomas R.

    Food for thought. No one thought to add mechanical security measures to launched satellites. after all who would gain access to it in space? Could be an opportunity for China to reprogram or even place intelligence gathering components to satellites. Much cheaper than building their own, I would think.

  • hibeam

    Chinese Satellite Grabs Another in Orbit. I assume they grabbed one of ours? So they can copy it?

    • Rest Pal

      old designs, probably not worth copying.

      better to grab them for use as collateral against the trillions of dollars the US owed China.

      • teddybear

        You can grab all of US satellite and they still aren’t worth a dent to the trillions owed to China.

        • Rest Pal

          Oh it’s not just the satellites, but the various important services that require those satellites. Their value might still be insignificant compared to the colossal debt, but it’s better than nothing.

  • These can be used for several missions .
    First to retrieve and repair satellites ala shuttle.
    Second to destroy our satellites since our network centric system is very dependant on them.
    Third Espionage , we not able to protect our satellites once in orbit . Space has been much like the idea of freedom of the seas, you were safe. In space its also thought your satellites are safe.
    Fourth the chinese know with all the space debris up there if you just nudge one off course you can cause a chain reaction destroying several satellites without directly being responsible.

  • anthony

    As long as they dont get in my airspace from home and land,there should be new laws for satelites.Like dont laer each other or so.But keep them little flying critters out of my property,airspace then I mean mainlly..

  • anthony

    When such chopper allways two, fly around they disturb my radio as TV what can a vet do?Am I alloud to use them as skeet I think I have every right!!??

  • nixfu

    I saw this movie “You Only Live Twice” (Sean Connery).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_Only_Live_Twice_

  • Vok

    US gov intentionally leaks such info to make a point to chicom: We have the best god damned space situation and you can’t hide a thing from us, even way up from the deep space. That message by itself carries deterrence value.

    • Cpn. Obvious

      Chicap

    • Guest

      How did the US fare in a real war with the Chinese in Vietnam and Korea? Are you trying to make a point that you are uninformed? Hope this carry some deterrence value for further uninformed posts from you.

    • Charles P,

      Wow. You got 5 thumbs down for being correct. Tells you something.

  • 007

    Didn’t Bond take care if this in “You only Live Twice”?

  • hibeam

    I thought we agreed not to arm satellites?

    • teddybear

      Well, it’s the US government therefore it almost always means the opposite.

      • Rest Pal

        yep, got to give these lying scums a big thumbs up for their consistency in treachery and hypocrisy.

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      Yes, but that was “arm” in that sense of “equip with weapons”. Not “arm” as in “robotic arm”, which is what the Chinese satellite had [sorry, I just had to make that joke].

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen
      Luxembourg

      • westwood

        They are saying it is the same thing. An arm on satellite is a form of arms. Hmmm, this is more confusing?

        • Thomas L. Nielsen

          Totally OT, but the old WW1 method of starting an aircraft engine (pilot switches on ignition, mechanic turns prop by hand) has been called a “Hemingway Starter” – If the mechanic is too slow when the engine catches, it’s [drumroll] “Farewell to Arms”.

          Regards & all,

          Thomas L. Nielsen
          Luxembourg

  • Mystick

    We got rid of our DOD satellite capture system…. it had an arm and everything, too. It was called the Space Shuttle. We proved our ability to rendezvous in orbit and do things as far back as Gemini. The Chinese, having a nascent space program, have to go through these steps, as well.

    Our initial steps were every bit as military/strategically oriented as those of the Chinese now:

    Bombs: Suborbitally moving an object from point A to point B on the Earth(Nazi’s 1st).
    Bombing Platform: Inserting an object into orbit(Soviets 1st)
    Defense: Intercepting the trajectory(Direct-ascent and course correction) of an orbital object(Vostok 3/4, Gemini)

    …on and on.

  • valbonne

    Is the American Defense Dept. talking about their own Space Shuttle grabbed other country’s satellites previously or just demonize China first before China attempt to do it in the future?

    Unusual isn’t it because China do not have Space Shuttle.

  • Rob

    FYI, the US has done this before (DARPA’s Orbital Express). Personally the US system is far more advanced as it can also service the satellite.

  • Ant A.

    I think some of you are overreacting. The US does not let us know what they have in the pipeline till years down the road. For ex. Enemy of the State-the movie,came out in 98 and most people thought it was sciece fiction. Now people are learning that those things were actually in play at that time. Military technology is the same-what we hear about as new today has been in developement for years. The Chinese and Russians know this so they leak their own propaganda to make the masses think they have caught up.

    • Rest Pal

      Ant A, the next big thing in the pipeline is the Unth(s)inkable Police State. By the time you become aware of it, it would be too late to do anything about it, as universal surveillance capability currently being developed and implemented will be used to crush any attempt at organizing anti-government activities.

      The neo-slave state isn’t that far off. In a way, many Americans have already become “thought-slaves” or “mind-slaves”. The US offers an excellent case study in how entertainment and indoctrination through private / corporate-owned media can be so devastatingly effective by subduing the vigilance of the masses, if not the capability for vigilance.

  • ABDELKADER HAMDAOUI

    Lawyers or potential lawyers should take up Space Law instead of ambulance chasing. There are lots of legal work to be done acting for insurance companies over Space traffic accidents, and space routes just like sea routes. It is a step up from Maritime Law.

  • Mr Tomy

    China’s intention to steal technology, the development is aimed at the acquisition of high-tech satellite and then bring manufacturing … This Chinese boy really evil, to destroy all of its satellite guys, my only …

  • Olivier

    So, they grab a satellite and then they do what with it ?

  • roland

    Satellites grabbing satellites? Probably it’s a good idea to place self destruct satellite in space if they grab ours.

    • roland

      Or probably arm our satellite with auto laser firing mechanism if it notice it was a chinese satellite that was grabbing ours.

  • Roland

    Probably we (US) should do the same thing.

    • Roland

      like Grab the grabber in space. Checkmate

  • James B Gibb

    Every satellite we put up should have a mini-nuke enclosed, so when they get hijacked by China, we blow their butts to hell in their labs. But, once again we need to remember everything the Chinese seem to do has a made in USA look about it. Seems someone is providing the plans for all our Space and Military Systems, because they sure appear too similar to be Chinese designs. I still like the nuke surprise package, but please don’t put it down on design plans, or the Chinese will have it before the next
    lunch break.