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. The Chinese Satellite Killer

McCain Calls On China To Grow Up
Davos (AFP) Jan 27 - US Senator and presidential hopeful John McCain on Saturday said the time had come for China to justify its superpower aspirations and "step up" over issues like the North Korean nuclear crisis. "It's time for China to step up in the world and assume their responsibilities," McCain told reporters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. "So far, some of us ... have been very disappointed in their lack of maturity," he added.

McCain, considered a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, said allowing Pyonyang to develop nuclear weapons would likely lead to regional proliferation. "How can the Japanese not rearm if the North Koreans continue with this?" he said. "It's in China's interest to restrain North Korea and so far there has been very little, if any, assistance in that area on the part of China." Six-nation talks on the nuclear issue -- involving the United States, China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas -- resumed in December after a gap of more than one year, during which Pyongyang tested its first atom bomb.

The last session made no visible progress, with North Korea sticking to its demands that the United States end sanctions against a Macau-based bank accused of laundering money for the impoverished communist regime. Chief US envoy Christopher Hill voiced optimism after rare one-to-one talks with his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-gwan in Berlin last week. But McCain insisted that Beijing, which carries the most influence with the leadership in Pyongyang, needed to bring more pressure to bear. "If China is going to be a superpower ... it has to act like a superpower," the senator said.

by Andrei Kislyakov
RIA Novosti political commentator
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Jan 29, 2007
I think everyone will agree that actions speak louder than words. You may shout and wave your hands in a family spat as long as you like but when the first plate is flung down and breaks into pieces, the "contesting sides," as a rule, pause to await further trouble now that the danger line has been crossed.

Something like that happened on the night of January 11-12, after China launched a rocket apparently carrying a kinetic interceptor, which reportedly destroyed the outdated but still capable weather satellite Feng Yun 1C. The room for speculation about what happened is quickly approaching zero, however. It is almost certain now that this was the first Chinese test of an anti-satellite weapon, and no official statement from Beijing so far is likely to change anything.

The main result is that the leading space powers' agreement not to militarize space despite their loud and sometimes threatening pledges to the contrary has been upset.

It is not important how successful the test was and how well it met its objectives. Information coming from tracking equipment will answer all technical questions. This is now the concern of the world's intelligence agencies.

But already it is possible to discuss both technical aspects of the latest "Chinese miracle" and to foresee some effects of the test.

"Very un-Chinese"

American intelligence believes it was a successful Chinese test of anti-satellite weapons. Launched from the Xichang range, the medium-range ballistic missile carried a kinetic interceptor in place of a warhead, which in a direct hit destroyed a weather satellite put into a polar orbit in 1999 at an altitude of about 860 kilometers.

An undisputed fact is that we now have a cloud of debris in orbit which is expected, according to some sources, to last a quarter of a century and pose a threat to space vehicles. It is this debris that raises the first question in a series of uncertainties about the tests: Where does it come from?

In the view of James Oberg, a noted American expert on space, the blasting of the satellite is more metaphorical than anything else. Actually, the targeted satellite merely stops functioning, which also happened to an American target in an anti-satellite weapons tests in 1985.

At about the same time, the U.S.S.R. destroyed one of its own satellites in a similar test. The resulting cloud of debris kept the Americans worried for a long time. It was ultimately established that the interceptor was itself detonated and broke into shrapnel-like pieces.

But a satellite can still explode if hit by a foreign body, and scientists can decide from the amount of energy released and the pattern of scattered debris whether the satellite was blasted from outside or inside.

Yet the aging satellite, designed in the late 1970s, has nothing in it to detonate. The craft is not equipped with a propulsion unit and, as a result, carries no explosive fuel. Its attitude control system uses micro-thrusters burning compressed nitrogen.

The rocket itself, however, was certain to have a self-destruct system with the express purpose of blasting the payload to smithereens in an emergency. In other words, everything depends on what is found in the vast amount of information from ground- and space-based surveillance systems. So far the U.S. Air Force is keeping mum about the main thing - what occurred to the Chinese satellite.

It is one thing if the satellite is shattered into a myriad of parts, and another if it is intact but knocked out of action. The result would be loss of stabilization and drastic changes in the orientation of its orbit.

There is one more aspect bearing on the debris and concerned more with ethics than technology. Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a group that studies national security, called the tests very un-Chinese.

"There is nothing subtle about this," he said. "They've created a huge debris cloud that will last a quarter century or more. It's at a higher elevation than the test we did in 1985, and for that one the last trackable debris took 17 years to clear out."

Let us acknowledge this fine insight from the Americans and try to answer the question that always arises when Chinese space achievements are mentioned. Was there any outside help?

(to be continued)

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.

Source: RIA Novosti

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A Journey To Space Is Not A Jaunt To The Caribbean
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The already remarkable times we live in seem to have acquired one more distinctive feature: you can always find a dozen or so desperate characters ready to look into a shark's mouth, dance on the brink of an awakening volcano, or slip under an advancing avalanche. Over the past few decades we have tried more or less successfully to broaden our horizons and take a detached view of ourselves from near-Earth space.

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