An In-Orbit Game of Cat and Mouse: Close approaches prompt calls for communications and norms

06/16/2022 | Debra Werner - Space News | External Article



“The U.S. is very concerned about what other countries might be able to find out about the capabilities of those satellites and about being able to protect them,” said Brian Weeden, Secure World Foundation director of program planning. The Secure World Foundation, for its part, is “concerned that the ambiguity over some of these actions and that heightened tensions could lead to some sort of conflict, to mistakes or misperceptions,” he said. 

Soon after a pair of Chinese satellites reached geostationary orbit early this year, space surveillance satellite USA 270 maneuvered to get a closer look at its new neighbors.

As USA 270 closed in on Shiyan-12-01 and Shiyan-12-02, the Chinese inspection satellites took off in opposite directions with Shiyan 12 02 moving into position to get a sunlit view of the U.S. surveillance satellite.

“It’s pretty clear that as USA 270 gets close, these guys are getting out of Dodge,” said Dan Oltrogge, COMSPOC Corp. research director. “It also demonstrates that countries are doing what we call counterspace. They’re taking action to avoid disclosure of their capabilities or their activities.”

This sort of geostationary orbit cat and mouse is happening with greater frequency than ever before, according to space traffic experts. U.S. military satellites have kept tabs on the geostationary orbit belt since the 1990s. In the last few years, Russian and Chinese reconnaissance satellites have followed suit, cozying up to government and commercial satellites in ways that U.S. government officials find disturbing.


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