China reportedly displayed another alarming leap in space-based technology and capabilities this week after an analytics firm claimed to observe a satellite “grab” another and pull it from its orbit.
China’s Shijian-21 satellite, or SJ-21, disappeared from its regular position and reappeared while making a “large maneuver” to move closer to a dead BeiDou Navigation System satellite. The SJ-21 then pulled the BeiDou out of its orbit and placed it a few hundred miles away in a “graveyard orbit” where it is unlikely to interfere or collide with active satellites.
Chinese state media said the SJ-21 was designed to “test and verify space debris mitigation technologies,” but the potential to move satellites around presents terrifying capabilities for orbital manipulation of satellites belonging to other nations.
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Brian Flewelling, chief architect for space situational awareness (SSA) at ExoAnalytic Solutions, presented footage of the event during a webinar hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Secure World Foundation.
“We continue to track SJ-21 and monitor it for conjunctions with all known space objects. The ability to maintain custody of SJ-21 after this large daytime maneuver is an important and unique capability of Exo’s commercial SSA network,” Flewelling said in the video.
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The maneuver is part of On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing (OSAM) capabilities, which the U.S. and European nations have also pursued, according to Breaking Defense.
Such operations would fall under Space Command’s operations, specifically as a possible factor in future Artemis program launches, according to Aerospace America.
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“Artemis is about more than getting back to the moon; it’s about sustained human presence on the moon and the ultimate goal of going to Mars,” said Larry Huebner, NASA technical lead for OSAM-2.
An OSAM-capable vehicle may eventually come equipped with a 3D printing device to manufacture new pieces to produce in space, giving way to incredible capabilities for what space vehicles can accomplish.
The U.S. plans to launch a “servicer” satellite in 2025, but China’s display might cause Space Command to step up development.
Neither the Pentagon nor Space Command responded to a Fox News request for comment by the time of publication.