WASHINGTON - A detailed analysis of satellite imagery published Monday provides additional evidence that a Chinese rocket launch in May 2013 billed as a research mission was actually a test of a new anti-satellite weapon based on a road-mobile ballistic missile.
Brian Weeden, a former US Air Force space analyst, published a 47-page analysis on the website of The Space Review, which he said showed that China appears to be testing a kinetic interceptor launched by a new rocket that could reach geostationary orbit about 36,000 km (22,500 miles) above the earth. "If true, this would represent a significant development in China's anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities," wrote Weeden, now a technical adviser for Secure World Foundation, a Colorado-based nonprofit focused on secure and peaceful uses of outer space. "No other country has tested a direct ascent ASAT weapon system that has the potential to reach deep space satellites in medium earth orbit, highly elliptical orbit or geostationary orbit," he wrote, referring to orbital paths that are above 2,000 km (1,250 miles) over the earth.
The article includes a previously undisclosed satellite image taken by DigitalGlobe Inc that shows a mobile missile launcher, or "transporter-erector-launcher" (TEL) at China's Xichang missile launch site. A TEL is used for mobile ground launches of ballistic missiles instead of a fixed pad.
Given the new imagery and the absence of a different rocket at the Xichang site that could have carried out the 2013 launch, Weeden said there was now "substantial evidence" that China was developing a second anti-satellite weapon in addition to the previously known system designated as SC-19 by US agencies.
He said the new system may use one of China's new Kuaizhou rockets.
RISKS OF REMAINING SILENT
Weeden renewed his call for the United States to release more information about the Chinese weapons development programme, arguing that more public dialogue was needed about efforts to develop and test anti-satellite weapons around the world. "Remaining silent risks sending the message to China and other countries that developing and testing hit-to-kill ASAT capabilities is considered responsible behaviour as long as it does not create long-lived orbital debris," Weeden said.