US conducted 14 spy missions on China’s satellites in 2 years, claims Chinese study

"The frequent close approaches of the GSSAP satellite to Chinese high-value space assets pose a serious threat to their security," alleges Chinese researchers.
Baba Tamim
GSSAP artist rendering.
GSSAP artist rendering.

United States Air Force 

​​US spy satellites have allegedly carried out at least 14 close-range observation flights on China's high-orbit satellites in less than two years, claimed a new study by academics in China's space program. 

The Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Programme (GSSAP) satellites of the US Air Force repeatedly approached China's most expensive and sophisticated satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO), South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Friday. 

"The frequent close approaches of the GSSAP satellite to Chinese high-value space assets pose a serious threat to their security," claimed the team led by researcher Cai Sheng of the Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics. 

"In a series of space attack and defense technology tests, the US military has revealed their ability and intention to disrupt China's use of space."

GSSAP satellites 

GEO satellites are often more expensive to launch and maintain than LEO satellites since they are always in the same position in relation to the Earth.

In addition to being used for critical infrastructure like banking and finance systems, GEO satellites are used by many nations for military communications and surveillance.

According to the Chinese study, the GSSAP satellites have high-resolution optical cameras and sophisticated electronic surveillance tools that enable them to take photos and listen in on radio transmissions from other spacecraft. 

They are able to take precise pictures of other GEO satellites, including details like antennas and sensors, thanks to their high-resolution optical cameras.

US spy satellites typically decide to approach their targets from an advantageous vantage point, per the Chinese investigation.  

When the target satellite is in the "down-light observation area," or when the sun is directly behind the GSSAP satellite and shining on the target satellite, this is advantageous for the GSSAP satellites. 

On the other hand, it would not be advantageous if the target satellite were in the "up-light observation area" of the GSSAP satellite, which is between the GSSAP satellite and the sun.

In this situation, the sun's dispersed light may obstruct imaging and make it more challenging to obtain precise information about the object.

No answer to why the report was revealed now

Close contacts in space are typically kept secret, according to a Beijing-based expert, because the military may consider such material to be sensitive or classified and fear that exposing it may expose their own strengths or weaknesses to other nations.

Although the Changchun-based institute, a division of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has a long history of producing laser technology, remote sensing, and space optics for China's space program, China has not yet explained why it has chosen to reveal the material now.