China Launched a New Military Satellite to Destroy Space Junk

But it could also be used for space war tactics.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Just a day ago, we brought you news about how China now had the ability to both maneuver and track satellites with a high deftness and precision. This enabled the country's military to see when a U.S. satellite might move conspicuously close, and redirect its own satellite away from the U.S. one in roughly 24 hours.

Now, China is working on a new military satellite meant to tackle space junk, according to The satellite called Shijian-21 was launched on a Long March 3B rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China at 9:27 p.m. EDT Saturday, Oct. 23.

Chinese state media Xinhua reported that Shijian-21 will “ test and verify space debris mitigation technologies.” Meanwhile, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation called the launch a "complete success" within an hour of launch.

SpaceNews reported that Shijian-21 had been sent into a geosynchronous transfer orbit. However, details on the satellite and its capabilities remain a mystery.

The mission comes at a time when space debris is alarmingly high. Today, a whopping 8,950 satellites have been launched by more than 40 nations into orbit. About 5,000 of these satellites remain in orbit, though most have reached the end of their lifespan. Only around 1,950 of these satellites are operational while the rest have become space junk.

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This creates a high risk that operational missions in orbit might collide with the junk, resulting in serious damage to the missions. (Last August news surfaced that a Chinese satellite was whacked by a piece of old Russian rocketry in March.)

Many companies, such as Kurs Orbital, have started building spacecraft to tackle this problem but for China, this mission may be a bit more personal. Will the nation be able to solve a crisis that has so many nations scrambling for solutions? Time will tell.

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