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China tests space junk removal robot in geosynchronous orbit

China has apparently used a space junk removal robot to tug a defunct Chinese satellite out of geosynchronous orbit, thus opening that slot for future satellites.

Ground tracking by ExoAnalytic Solutions found that the robot, dubbed SJ-21, apparently docked with the defunct satellite on January 22nd. Since then:

In an email to Breaking Defense this afternoon, Flewelling [of ExoAnalytic] said the latest tracking data gathered earlier today from ExoAnalytic’s telescopes show the SJ-21 separating from the Compass G2, leaving the latter in the eccentric “super-graveyard drift orbit.” SJ-21 now has moved back to a near-GEO orbit.

The orbit places the defunct satellite in an orbit above the geosynchronous orbit satellites use, but in an orbit that is not typical.

This work is comparable to what the Japanese/American company Astroscale is presently testing in low Earth orbit, though it appears far more sophisticated. In fact, based on what SJ-21 has done so far, it appears China is far ahead of everyone else in developing in-orbit robotic servicing capabilities.

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2 comments

  • Alton

    Could it BE?

    Also an anti-Satellite system for future Use?

    More than one way to skin the DoD – NSA
    Operations…

  • Max

    Yes it could, they are aware of this capability and are worried. An article from pessimistic perspective.

    “Maneuvering one satellite close to another in orbit is a technologically complex proposition, and there is always the possibility of an unintentional collision occurring during one of these operations. There are also concerns about adversary satellites with more destructive capabilities such as high-powered microwaves or the ability to launch projectiles. Any satellite that has the ability to maneuver in close proximity to another could potentially carry out a variety of attacks on it such as jamming its transmissions, blinding its sensors, spraying aerosols on its solar panels and optics, physically manipulating it, or moving it out of orbit as in the case of Shijian-21’s recent operation”
    https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/44054/a-chinese-satellite-just-grappled-another-and-pulled-it-out-of-orbit

    There’s also the worry that laser communication, which was thought of as the most secure, can be intercepted by a undetected cube sat attached to satellite during a close flyby, which masks detection, to “infiltrate” or block or scramble communications, or manipulate the receiving/ transmitting data. A self-destruct like kinetic or acid package that mimics an astroid strike during a crisis would give the advantage to an enemy.

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