Chinese grappling satellites?

Sneaky Chinese

I do hate posts like Gizmodo’s, asserting something that when you drill down, may or may not be true.  You just can’t tell.  But I guess that’s what link bait is:  something to get people to click on, true or not.  And when you drill down to the Washington Free Beacon post, it’s certainly not clear to me at all that Gizmodo’s, or the Beacon’s, assertion that one Chinese maneuvering satellite has successfully “hijacked” another of their satellites, is true at all.  And the only source attribution I see in the Beacon’s article is to “Pentagon officials.”  And most of what the Free Beacon mentioned in their post was old news.

That’s not to say the Chinese haven’t been busy.  We noted in this post the launching of these three satellites in July.  And Zarya, run by Mr. Robert Christy, has been tracking the three satellites and their activities, with good descriptions (graphs and all) here.  Not only that, Zarya goes into extreme detail on what it is the satellites seem to be doing.  You can read about the “waking up” of satellite “Payload A” here.  

It seems the Payload A raised its orbit by about a kilometer on 15 October.  You can read more about orbital maneuvers here, but what it means is the Chinese just increased the height of the satellite’s orbit by a little over half a mile (.62 miles).  Interestingly, Zarya notes the satellite wasn’t in view of any Chinese ground station, so that means all these were automated/preprogrammed maneuvers.  And then they note an object, which Space Track labeled “Payload A Debris,” had detached from Payload A, and shadowed Payload A from a fixed distance (in same Zarya post).

According to this Zarya post, Payload A raised it’s orbit again on 22 Oct moving it further away from the “Payload A Debris.”  And really, that’s all there is.  Nothing about “seeing” any grappling of one satellite by another.  Just very interesting maneuvers with objects appearing from other objects.  Zarya does say this really is all conjecture until the Chinese actually admit something is going on.  So, what day is hell scheduled to freeze over again?  It would be the day after that.

One other thing to note–Space Track admits their tracking is only good up to +/- 500 meters (at best).  So, imagine one football field (a little over that), multiply it by five.  Imagine there’s a “bubble” with the satellite at the center of it.   That bubble represents the amount of uncertainty of where the satellite is within it.  And the bubble has a radius of 5oo meters from where the satellite’s supposed to be.  So, now imagine another satellite with a similar bubble with a similar radius extending from it.  Now, imagine one satellite’s bubble starting to graze the other satellite’s bubble–and that’s as close as Space Track can monitor these things.  So there’s some room for error.  But some people, like Mr. Christy at Zarya, can also make intelligent guesses.  But that’s all they are–guesses.  If Space Track says they can only track a satellite’s location to 500 meters, then anything lower than that is just guesswork (as far as we know–there may be other ways to track these satellites).

Nonetheless, it’s good to know someone else is keeping an eye on the Chinese activities.  I wonder what the Indians are thinking about all of this?



2 responses to “Chinese grappling satellites?

  1. Pingback: Robots in Space (hitching rides) | The Mad Spaceball

  2. Pingback: A Chinese Direct Ascent GEO AntiSatellite Test in 2013? | The Mad Spaceball

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