A team of Chinese military researchers claims to have successfully created and tested an innovative anti-satellite robotic device designed to insert a small package of explosives into a satellite's exhaust nozzle.
October 3, 2023
Unlike traditional anti-satellite weaponry that shatters satellites into fragments, this new weapon utilizes a "time-controlled, steady explosion" using a specialized melt-cast explosive, as reported by Professor Sun Yunzhong and colleagues from the Hunan Defence Industry Polytechnic in Xiangtan, as published in the journal "Electronic Technology & Software Engineering".
What sets this device apart is its ability to remain concealed inside the targeted satellite for an extended period thanks to an electric motor-driven locking mechanism. If necessary, it can be disengaged from the satellite. The project received funding from a government initiative aimed at developing novel warheads for rocket missiles.
This groundbreaking technology was rigorously tested within a controlled ground facility and was deemed to have "practical value in certain engineering applications". It represents a significant development in China's anti-satellite capabilities, marking a departure from previous actions that generated excessive space debris, raising concerns internationally.
In contrast to the United States and the former Soviet Union, which conducted numerous anti-satellite tests during the Cold War, China's recent focus has shifted towards methods that minimize debris production, such as capturing satellites using nets or robotic arms. Another aspect of China's anti-satellite efforts has involved the development of ground-based weapons capable of impairing satellites through laser beams. However, these approaches are relatively easy to detect.
In this context, Professor Sun's team pursued an innovative approach by placing explosives inside satellites. The device is compact and resembles the shape of de Laval nozzles, commonly found on many satellites. These nozzles, based on a design from the 19th century by Swedish engineer Gustaf de Laval, are still integral to advanced satellites today.
The device operates by inserting a rod through the nozzle's narrow point, securing itself against the inner nozzle wall. When detonated, the explosion is partially contained within the nozzle and can be mistaken for an engine malfunction. The precise calculation of the explosion's heat can convert it into kinetic energy, potentially damaging the satellite's internal components while preserving the overall structure.
China's progress in anti-satellite capabilities has raised concerns within the U.S. military, particularly regarding Shijian-17, an experimental probe equipped with a robotic arm. General James Dickinson, head of the U.S. Space Command, expressed concerns about the technology's potential use for grappling other satellites.
As discussions of hypersonic technology and an emerging space arms race continue, China emphasizes that its military strategy is defensive in nature. Nonetheless, experts warn of the potential dangers posed by the militarization of space and the need for a reevaluation of principles governing space activities to ensure the preservation of the space environment.
Author: Nessa, Cyber Journalist
Photo: China Defence Forum, SpaceX
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