Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Escalation of space wars

From Washington Post

China will launch a record number of spacecraft this year, state media reported Tuesday, amid a rise in tensions among world powers over the militarisation of space.

China plans to send up more than 10 missions this year, said Yang Baohua, head of the China Academy of Space Technology, according to the China Daily.

"China's space technology has entered a new stage. The design and manufacture of satellites takes less time, and homemade satellites are more reliable and have a longer lifespan," Yang said.

China has launched an average of eight spacecraft in the past two years, according to the report.

From NY Times - BEIJING — In response to a United States plan to shoot down a malfunctioning spy satellite, China has warned against threats to security in outer space, without mentioning its own successful anti-satellite missile test last year.

The Chinese government also stopped short of linking the planned American strike with Beijing’s repeated calls for a complete ban on space weapons.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, said the Chinese government was concerned about the American plan, Xinhua, the state-run news agency, reported late Sunday, noting that the target satellite was loaded with toxic fuel.

Mr. Liu urged Washington to fulfill its international obligations and avoid threatening security in space and the security of other countries, Xinhua quoted him as saying, without elaborating.

“Relevant departments of China are closely watching the situation and working out preventative measures,” Mr. Liu said.

Security analysts have suggested that Beijing could use the planned American interception to justify the Chinese military’s unannounced destruction of a defunct weather satellite in January 2007.

That interception drew criticism from senior American military officials, who complained that it had left a cloud of debris that was dangerous to other space traffic. Chinese experts in turn have questioned the Pentagon’s explanation that it wants to destroy the spy satellite before it tumbles to Earth to avoid contamination from hazardous fuel on board.

“In my opinion, this decision is imprudent and ill advised,” said Li Bin, an arms control specialist at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “If this satellite is shot down, the toxic fuel will still be there. Therefore, the pollution still exists.”

But, Mr. Li said, destroying the satellite would be an effective way to prevent its technology from falling into the wrong hands.

Just days after China and Russia renewed their call for a global ban on space weapons at a disarmament conference, the United States announced late last week that it was preparing to fire a missile at the crippled reconnaissance satellite by the middle of next week during one of its passes over the Pacific.

The United States opposes treaties or other measures to restrict space weapons.

In what will be a challenging test of antiballistic missile technology, the interceptor will be fired from an American warship just before the satellite is expected to plunge uncontrollably back to earth.

The Pentagon said President Bush had ordered the mission to prevent possible contamination of inhabited areas. It said the interception was not a weapons test or a demonstration for potential adversaries.

The missions this year will include two Shenzhou VII spaceships -- one of which will feature the country's first spacewalk -- two environmental satellites and a communications satellite for Venezuela.

The news comes amid rising tensions between Russia, China and the United States over the militarisation of space.

China and Russia have expressed concerns about a US plan to shoot down what officials in Washington say is a crippled spy satellite, with that event to take place potentially as early as this week.

Russia's defence ministry has said it fears the US plan is a veiled weapons test and represents an "attempt to move the arms race into space", while Washington has insisted it is merely trying to prevent it hitting Earth.

The United States, meanwhile, remains concerned over China's own satellite destruction effort in January last year.

China used a ballistic missile to intercept and destroy one of its own ageing weather satellites in low Earth orbit, becoming only the third nation after the United States and the former Soviet Union to do so.

Adding to the tensions, Russia and China last week unveiled plans for a new treaty banning the deployment of any weapons in space, but the United States rejected the move as "impossible".

Washington is currently negotiating with Warsaw and Prague on the possible installation of 10 interceptor missile sites in Poland by 2012 and associated radar stations in the Czech Republic, as part of a missile shield.

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