Did China Conduct Another ASAT Test?

Did China Conduct Another ASAT Test?

If you believe China’s account, it launched a geophysical sounding rocket yesterday.   If you believe Bill Gertz, it was an antisatellite (ASAT) test.

China’s official news agency, Xinhua, reported that it launched a sounding rocket at 9:00 pm (Beijing Time) Monday with a scientific payload to study energetic particles and magnetic fields.  The launch was from the Xichang space launch site near Chengdu.

Bill Gertz, senior editor at the Washington Free Beacon and a columnist for the Washington Times, however, reports that it was an ASAT test disguised as a space exploration rocket.  He describes it as “the first test of a new ground-launched anti-satellite missile” whose existence, he says, was first reported by the Free Beacon in October.

Some U.S. experts on China’s space program expected an ASAT test in January that did not materialize.  Greg Kulacki of the Union of Concerned Scientists argued that the United States should try to convince China not to conduct the test.  China’s successful 2007 ASAT test against one of its own weather satellites created over 3,000 pieces of space debris that earned it international condemnation.  That launch also was from Xichang, but used a different rocket.

Gertz quoted a Pentagon spokesperson as saying only that they do not comment on intelligence matters.  Reporters did not ask questions about it at the daily State Department briefings yesterday or today.

The Pentagon released its most recent congressionally-required annual assessment of military and security developments involving China last week — often called the “China military power” report.  The topic of ASATs was not raised during a press conference with David Helvey, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia, and the report itself says little new about China’s space or counter-space activities.

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