Chinese space surge takes leap with satellite's wipeout
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published April 15, 2007
TAIPEI, Taiwan - The Fengyun - "Wind and Cloud" - 1-C weather satellite was a proud worker in China's space program. Launched in May 1999, it provided a wealth of information that scientists used for forecasting floods, sandstorms and disturbances in space caused by solar activity.
Now, it has been reduced to a nebula of debris. And that may prove to be its most lasting legacy.
In January China blasted the Fengyun 1-C into oblivion with a land-based antisatellite missile from its southwestern Xichang spaceport. It was the first kill of a satellite by a land-based missile conducted by any nation, including the United States and Russia.
The message was hard to miss: China is ready - and increasingly able - to challenge the U.S. military advantage in space.
"Competition is moving toward the new frontier, space," said Arthur Ding, a research fellow at Taiwan's National Chengchi University.
To space and military experts, China's success is no surprise - its military-run space program has taken a great leap forward in recent years.
It launched its first manned space flight in 2003. A second mission in 2005 put two astronauts into orbit for a week, and a third manned launch is planned for next year. This year, China plans to launch a probe that will orbit the moon.
On Saturday, the country launched a Long March 3-A rocket that sent a navigation satellite into orbit as part of its effort to build a global positioning system, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The satellite is the fourth China has launched as part of the Compass navigation system, which is expected to be operational in 2008.
But some see the antisatellite missile as evidence that China's program is taking an alarming direction.
"The successful test of a Chinese direct-ascent antisatellite weapon represents a new and dangerous phase of Chinese foreign policy," said Tom Ehrhard, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, a military think tank.
[Last modified April 15, 2007, 01:06:17]
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