US keeps eye on China’s space activities for potential risks

BEIJING: The US is closely monitoring Chinese activities that potentially threaten American assets in space as debris rapidly accumulates in low Earth orbit, the head of United States military operations in space said Friday (Dec 9).

Commander of US Space Command Army General James Dickinson also cheered the overwhelming passage in the United Nations of a resolution that countries not conduct direct-ascent antisatellite tests that create vast fields of space debris, which endanger satellites and space stations.

Of the four countries that have conducted such ASAT tests, the United States was the only one that voted in favor, while China and Russia voted no, and India abstained.

“We can’t continue to contribute to the debris that we find in the space domain,” Dickinson said in a telephone news conference with reporters in Asia. Most of that debris lies in crucial low Earth orbit, which has become “congested, competitive and contested,” he said.

Even tiny shards of metal can pose a danger and the number of objects is growing rampantly. Space Command is now tracking more than 48,000 in near-Earth orbit, including satellites, telescopes, space stations and pieces of debris of all sizes, up from 25,000 just three years ago, Dickinson said.

China in 2003 became the third government to send an astronaut into orbit on its own after the former Soviet Union and the United States. Its program has advanced steadily since.

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