Two Chinese Satellites Rendezvous in Orbit


Data from the US military shows that two Chinese satellites likely performed multiple rendezvous 600 kilometers above Earth this summer, and may have even bumped into each other. The rendezvous have taken place over the past several months, between two Chinese “Shi Jian” (Practice) spacecraft, SJ-06F and SJ-12, that are officially listed as science satellites.

News of the Chinese satellite encounters was first reported by a Russian news source in mid-August, and this week Brian Weeden from the Secure World Foundation wrote an extensive article for The Space Review.

Weeden said the maneuvers could be a rehearsal for the technology needed to build a space station, but it also shows China may now have the ability to approach and potentially interfere with other satellites.
“On-orbit rendezvous is a complex operation, and one that has only been done a few of times before, most notably by the US satellite XSS-11,” Weeden wrote, “which inspected the rocket body that placed it in LEO, and one of the US MiTEx satellites, which inspected the failed DSP-23 satellite in GEO. The rendezvous of two Chinese satellites demonstrates that China is broadening its space capabilities, but also touches on the greater issue of perceptions, trust, and safety in space activities that could impact the long-term sustainability of the space regime.”

Weeden said US military data suggests that one satellite may have been bumped and its orbit altered slightly on August 19. The change in its orbit can’t be explained by the usual things that affect satellites, such as the drag from the Earth’s atmosphere.

In January 2007, China destroyed a derelict satellite with a ballistic missile, which the US also did in February 2008.

For now, one can only speculate about the reasons for China performing these types of difficult and rare maneuvers with their satellites. You can read more about the technical nature of the events on The Space Review.

17 Replies to “Two Chinese Satellites Rendezvous in Orbit”

  1. In January 2007, China destroyed a derelict satellite with a ballistic missile, which the US also did in February 2008.

    Yes, but one should note that China shot down the satellite “just for fun”, while the US destroyed a satellite that was already on a collision course with the earth atmosphere, and the US wanted to be sure that the hydrazine fuel was not spread out over a populated area.

    Granted, but many suspect that this was also a golden opportunity both to test the procedure and to show the World that the US can do it too.

    Considering that the Chinese haven’t said anything about these maneuvers is, IMHO, an indication that it is not even formally a part of their civil space exploration programme. Also, I believe that formation flying satellites that come in different orbits is something quite different from docking to a space station.


  3. Yes, one can see the immense military potential – for militarist scaring and market broadening.

    If China is a threat to US superpower hegemony, it is because they can work the (mostly non-military) market better. 😮

  4. Oo, oo, just in form the rumor mill (HT: Lakdawalla on Plan Soc blog): Falcon-9 stage 2 roll was likely thermal problem induced; likely fixed now.

  5. I would agree with hydrazine that the US satellite shoot down was a clever bit of propaganda but its easy to see this from Europe.

    This ability to rendezvous satellites in orbit seems to be a good advantage for any military to have, at the moment it seems the US can do it in GEO also, Just imagine all your communication and spy satellites ceasing function, that would be very bad in peace or war time.

  6. That’s funny. For one time I defend the US, and that’s also wrong… I never get it right. 😉

  7. If you are going to test ability to destroy satellite in LEO, they should do it in such a way so that projectile or explosion comes from forward and above the target satellite. That way all the peaces that come off from the impact deorbits quickly and burns up. Now that’s a trick. You can clean up LEO that way too!

  8. @ DrFlimmer

    Well you still could be correct DrFlimmer, but what the U.S. did sounds a bit fishy to me and well that’s just my opinion. 🙂

  9. Poor U.S. always gets a hard time it seems, I suppose that is the price to pay if your one of the most powerful countries in the world. Kinda like the smart and good looking guy in school,work etc. 🙂

  10. I don’t believe China did that satellite “for fun”. It’s a far too very expensive of an “experiment” and adventure and who knows what the real intent is or was. Now the world knows the capability exists and that can only mean a new type of dominance in technical savvy, whether it is a military one or not remains to be seen.
    Marrying separate satellites in space has a lot of potential, especially if a country were prone to secretly assembling military satellites in space. Let’s just hope it isn’t for an aggressive nature.
    We should be spending that time, money and effort in cleaning up the junk before someone gets killed and the U.S. public has another reason to whine about manned space exploration being too dangerous!!!

  11. By the way, is Universe Today ever going to clean up this new format that puts text on the wrong side of the page and randomly smushes text together???

    There is a serious glitch in the new software, which would be easy enough to fix as long as they are aware that the text is really goofed. I can not be the only person seeing this after two months………

  12. See what I mean???

    The 1st reply was legible, just on the wrong side of the page.
    The 2nd reply 30 seconds later is smashed together and on the wrong side of the page….

  13. FYI Universe Today – The 1st four replies of this article are fine, the next 4 replies are smashed on top of each other (now) but were once readable on the wrong side of the page. The next 5 are my replies testing whether or not there is a pattern to the glitch and it seems from my end that there is. As long as there aren’t any spaces or blank llines BETWEEN sentences, everything is legible ( just on the wrong side of the page after the 1st four replies). Doesn’t make sense but…. it is what it is.

  14. Interesting. I have a hard time reading the first four answers, since I have some sort of horizontal gray lines cutting through them.

    Btw: I use firefox 3.6.8

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