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Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Mailbag: Russia on those Chinese Killer Satellites

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day!

A reader writes:
Following the recent destruction of a satellite by a Chinese missile, I was slightly shocked to read the comment from Russian defence minister Sergei Ivanov (as reported by the Moscow News) about the incident: "I have heard reports to that effect, and they are quite abstract. I’m afraid they don’t have such an anti-satellite basis. The rumors are highly exaggerated.” The last comment sounds a bit like Mark Twain's "reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Either they destroyed a satellite or they didn't. There might be something lost in the translation but it sounds a bit like "the Americans are lying but I am too diplomatic to say so." Surely if the Russians had not detected the event, the proper thing to say would have been perhaps, "if it is true then it's a worrying development" or even, "if it is true then it's good that our Chinese friends have the power to hit America where it hurts". Could it be that, since the Chinese had not confirmed it, he simply could not resist the temptation to call the Americans liars. In which case the recent Chinese confirmation that they did shoot a satellite down seems to have pulled the rug from under him.
The Moscow News report was:
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has called the reports that a Chinese ballistic missile has hit a satellite highly exaggerated rumors, the Interfax news agency reported on Friday. “I have heard reports to that effect, and they are quite abstract. I’m afraid they don’t have such an anti-satellite basis. The rumors are highly exaggerated,” Ivanov told reporters in Moscow. On Friday, World media reported that China had shot down one of their old weather satellites with a ballistic missile. The United States voiced concern over the test. The US believes China's development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area. We and other countries have expressed our concern to the Chinese, a spokesman for the National Security Council, Gordon Johndroe has said . The Feng Yun 1C polar orbit weather satellite was hit by a medium-range, ground based ballistic missile approximately 537 miles above the Earth's surface. The missile used a kinetic impact to destroy the satellite, said Johndroe. Both the satellite and the missile was launched from the Xichang Space Center in Sichuan Province; the satellite in 1999, and the missile on the 11th. Officials in the U.S. are now concerned that debris from the test could cause problems for civilian and or military satellites. It is estimated that at least 40,000 pieces of debris are now floating around in space as the result of the test, and the pieces range anywhere from 1 centimeters and up to 4 inches. The pieces of the satellite and missile could stay in Earth's orbit for several decades. When the test happened, the U.S. stated that communication with one of its spy satellites was lost, but thus far no evidence has turned up to suggest the loss of communication was directly related to China's test. The test took place on January 11, 2007 and this is the first such test to occur in over 20 years. The U.S. last tested an anti-satellite system back on September 13, 1985.

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