China sets up new base for space object identification

The command post will also alert Chinese forces of approaching ballistic missiles. 
Loukia Papadopoulos
An image of a Chinese flag.jpg
An image of a Chinese flag.


China is setting up a new military base to enhance the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) “space situational awareness.”

This is according to a press release by the China Aerospace Studies Institute published on Monday.

The initiative is being led by the PLA’s Strategic Support Force (PLASSF). A relatively recent addition to the Chinese military forces, the PLASSF was created in December of 2015. Its main goal is to serve the nation’s military and national security missions by providing electronic warfare as well as cyber capabilities. 

The organization is also in charge of the management and protection of China's space assets, such as satellites, making it the ideal body to run the new base.

Foreign space object detection and tracking

Base 37 will be in charge of foreign space object "tracking, analysis, and identification", including enhancing China’s domestic space object catalog's accuracy. The institute compared the new establishment to the US Space Force’s Delta 2 and Delta 4 bases.

Base 37 will play a key part in detecting natural or artificial interferences that may affect PLA satellites currently assisting military personnel. In addition, the new base will enhance the PLA's capacity to "track and identify space objects' locations, maneuvers, and operating environments," as well as alert Chinese forces of approaching ballistic missiles. 

According to a review of base 37's technical reports and patents, its top goals will be to strengthen critical perceived threat identification and tracking and to build an internal collision early warning system.

Longer-term priorities appear to include developing a thorough ground and space-based missile early warning system and lowering the probability that PLA military communication satellites will encounter on-orbit spectrum interference.

The press release also noted that the new base could serve as “an additional and possibly more direct point of contact” with the US. The Beijing Institute of Tracking and Telecommunications Technology noted that “cooperation in outer space safety is a common interest [that] China shares with” the Western nation.

The development of a domestic PLA space object catalog could be a sign that China wants to release it to the rest of the world, as the PLA noted that it had anticipated Russia would do following a 2016 United Nations summit.

Strengthening a partnership from 2018

The Chinese and Russian governments have been working together to track space debris since at least 2018, indicating that a Chinese publicly available catalog would likely strengthen their partnership.

Although an early study of base 37's capabilities can establish the station’s involvement in integrating and analyzing space situational awareness data, it does not yet indicate that the command post would operate on-orbit systems. For instance, it doesn't appear that the base is handling any of the moveable satellites, such as SJ-21, that are fitted with robotic arms. 

It was further reported that base 37 may use on-orbit space situational awareness systems to improve the Chinese space object catalog by comparing the locations of detected objects with those in other public records. However, PLA researchers continue to affirm that they do not currently possess systems other than tiny, experimental satellites in space.