Last week, China tested out a satellite that's capable of grabbing and capturing other satellites as they orbit the Earth. This normally wouldn't be such a big deal, except that it amounts to China conducting a weapons test in space. And that's worrisome -- especially to the Pentagon.
So what's up with this space weapons test? First of all, we're not diving into a Star Trek-like future any time soon -- at face value, the Chinese satellite test sounds rather benign. Experts are unclear about how exactly the test went down, but it's pretty clear that a satellite with a moveable arm reached out to grab another satellite, and then reeled it in. No bombs, no guns, no lasers, no nothing.
What worries the Pentagon is the fact that this represents significant progress in China's space warfare program. Officials suspect that it's a test of China's ASAT (anti-satellite) strategies. The last time we saw a Chinese ASAT test was in 2007, when they blew up an orbiting satellite with a missile. This created all kinds of space debris, which continues to be a problem for every country with a space program. However, this new grab-and-capture technique would bypass the issue of debris, should China ever wanted to disable another country's satellite. Even worse, the grappling arm could be used to manipulate an orbiting satellite without its owner even knowing.
For all intents and purposes, this little test isn't going to start a war. But it is giving some Pentagon officials a few new things to add to their to-do list. If China is testing weaponised satellites today, they could be using weaponised satellites tomorrow. [Washington Free Beacon]