30 November 2013

China Bolstering Civil, Defense Space Spending

Amy Svitak and Frank Morring, Jr., China Bolstering Civil, Defense Space Spending,” Aviation Week & Space Technology, 25 November 2013, 56.

According to a Euroconsult analysis, “Government Space Markets, World Prospects to 2022,” China’s total space budget grew an average of 14% for the period 2007-12. Over the next five years, it is expected to nearly double to more than $6 billion by 2017, with roughly two-thirds of spending going to civil and commercial programs, and the balance earmarked for military space. Launcher development and human spaceflight account for close to 50% of current government space spending.

[China’s 11 January 2007] ASAT test came as Chinese diplomats were preparing to meet their international counterparts in Vienna to draft rules of the road in spaceflight operations to minimize debris. The apparent disconnect within the Chinese government continues to raise questions among China-watchers who rely primarily on open-source literature to do their jobs. China had been working on an ASAT weapon for about a decade, and had reached the point when it needed to flight-test its hardware.

“It had to be briefed to the Central Military Commission for approval, so most likely it was briefed,” says Andrew Erickson, a China specialist at the U.S. Naval War College and Harvard University. “But here’s the disconnect: It was probably briefed by technical people who didn’t understand diplomatic implications to senior civilian leaders who understood to some extent international diplomatic implications, but didn’t understand technical aspects. That’s probably where something was lost in translation.” …

Over the summer, Western analysts said China conducted a series of in-orbit maneuvers involving old and new satellites that could be interpreted as a test of ASAT capabilities. The maneuvers reportedly involved one of three Chinese satellites launched in July, one of which is said to be equipped with a robotic arm that offers the potential for a range of space-based functions, everything from grappling orbital debris to disabling an enemy satellite.

More recently, China outlined a proposal for a swarm of small robotic spacecraft that could be used for in-orbit satellite servicing, among other applications. Initially the project calls for a series of ground tests to validate key technologies, culminating in a demonstration of in-orbit satellite servicing. However, the technology has a broad range of applications beyond this, says Xueqian Wang of the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

Dubbed the “Micro-swarm On-orbit Servicing System,” the constellation would have the ability to “track, approximate, capture and control a non-cooperative target,” Wang told the 64th International Astronautical Congress in Beijing in September. The system includes two monitoring satellites, a communications satellite and two maintenance satellites, each based on a micro-satellite platform. The latter spacecraft are to be equipped with a pair of servicing arms.

“All the robots in the system are designed based on the micro-satellite platform, and collaborated to execute monitoring and measuring, capture, maintenance, repair and other tasks,” Wang said. “This new program can address the disadvantage of a single large robot satellite, and the micro-satellite-based platform can reduce costs and speed development.” …