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2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test

On January 11, 2007, China conducted an anti-satellite missile test. A Chinese weather satellite—the FY-1C polar orbit satellite of the Fengyun series, at an altitude of 865 kilometres (537 mi), with a mass of 750 kg[1]—was destroyed by a kinetic kill vehicle traveling with a speed of 8 km/s in the opposite direction[2] (see Head-on engagement). It was launched with a multistage solid-fuel missile from Xichang Satellite Launch Center or nearby.

Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine first reported the test on January 17.[3] The report was confirmed on January 18, 2007 by a United States National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson.[4] At first the Chinese government did not publicly confirm whether or not the test had occurred; but on January 23, 2007, the Chinese Foreign Ministry officially confirmed that a test had been conducted.[5] China claims it formally notified the U.S., Japan and other countries about the test in advance.[6]

It was the first known successful satellite intercept test since 1985, when the United States conducted a similar anti-satellite missile test using an ASM-135 ASAT to destroy the P78-1 satellite.[7]

The New York Times,[8] Washington Times[9] and Jane's Intelligence Review[10] reported that this came on the back of at least two previous direct ascent tests that intentionally did not result in an intercept, on July 7, 2005 and February 6, 2006.[11]

A classified U.S. State Department cable revealed by WikiLeaks indicates that the same system was tested against a ballistic target in January 2010[12] in what the Chinese government publicly described as a test of "ground-based midcourse missile interception technology".[13] That description also closely matches the Chinese government's description of another test in January 2013,[14] which has led some analysts to conclude that it was yet another test of the same ASAT system, again against a ballistic target and not a satellite.[15]



In January 2001, a (US) congressionally mandated space commission headed by Donald Rumsfeld recommended that “the U.S. government should vigorously pursue the capabilities called for in the National Space Policy to ensure that the president will have the option to deploy weapons in space to deter threats to, and, if necessary, defend against attacks on U.S. interests."

Moreover, the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 had allowed the United States to pursue missile defenses, including space-based.

In response to the actions by the US, the Chinese started a space defense program, including anti-satellite defense.[16]


The Chinese anti-satellite system has been named by the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Maples, in a Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing as the SC-19.[17] The SC-19 has been described as being based on a modified DF-21 ballistic missile with a Kinetic Kill Vehicle mounted. The ASAT kill vehicle relies on an imaging infrared seeker and also has been described as a modified HQ-19 with a KT-1 rocket booster.[18] The program is said to have been at least partially funded by China's 863 Program (specifically, the 863-409 focus area).[19]

The closing velocity of the intercept was approximately 8 kilometers per second (17,900 mph), comparable to the American National Missile Defense system.[20]

A sample image taken by FY-1C. Received by the Center for Earth Observing and Space Research at George Mason University.[21]


Known orbit planes of Fengyun-1C debris one month after its disintegration by the Chinese ASAT (orbits exaggerated for visibility)

Political reactionsEdit

Several nations responded negatively to the test and highlighted the serious consequences of engaging in the militarisation of space. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao stated, "There's no need to feel threatened about this" and argued that "China will not participate in any kind of arms race in outer space."[22][23] China had publicly been advocating to ban space weapons, which had been rejected by the United States under George W. Bush.[8]

The United States of America had not tested an anti-satellite weapon since 1985. In February 2008 the US launched its own strike to destroy a non-functioning US satellite, which demonstrated the capability to strike in space, though at a much lower altitude than the Chinese test. The US claimed that the strike was not a military test but a necessary mission to remove the threat posed by the decaying orbit of a faulty spy satellite with a full tank of hydrazine fuel.[24]

Space debris trackingEdit

Anti-satellite missile tests, especially ones involving kinetic kill vehicles as in this case, contribute to the formation of orbital space debris which can remain in orbit for many years and could interfere with future space activity (Kessler syndrome).[7] This event was the largest recorded creation of space debris in history with more than 2,000 pieces of trackable size (golf ball size and larger) officially cataloged in the immediate aftermath, and an estimated 150,000 debris particles.[25][26] As of October 2016, a total of 3,438 pieces of debris had been detected, with 571 decayed and 2,867 still in orbit nine years after the incident.[27]

More than half of the tracked debris orbits the Earth with a mean altitude above 850 kilometres (530 mi), so they would likely remain in orbit for decades or centuries.[28] Based on 2009 and 2013 calculations of solar flux, the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office estimated that around 30% of the larger-than-10 centimetres (3.9 in) debris would still be in orbit in 2035.[29]

In April 2011, debris from the Chinese test passed 6 km away from the International Space Station.[30]

As of April 2019, 3,000 of the 10,000 pieces of space debris routinely tracked by the US Military as a threat to the International Space Station were known to have originated from the 2007 satellite shoot down.[31]


Official responsesEdit

  •   Japan – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that nations "must use space peacefully."[4]
  •   RussiaDefence Minister Sergei Ivanov, stated that he considers reports on the Chinese anti-satellite missile test "exaggerated and abstract", reminding at the same time, that Russia always was against the militarisation of space.[32]
  •   United Kingdom – A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters that British officials had raised the matter with China. "We are concerned about the impact of debris in space and we expressed that concern," he said. However he also said that "We don't believe that this does contravene international law".[33]
  •   United StatesNational Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, who confirmed that the test had occurred, stated that the United States "believes China's development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area."[4][34]

Unofficial or indirectly related responsesEdit

Desmond Ball of the Australian National University while commenting on China's anti-satellite (ASAT) test of January, 2007 said: “China's ASAT test of 11 January involved a fairly primitive system, limited to high-inclination LEO satellites. It is the sort of capability available to any country with a store of MRBMs/IRBMs or satellite launch vehicles, and a long-range radar system, such as Japan, India, Iran and even North Korea. However, its LEO coverage does include some extremely valuable satellites, including imaging and ELINT satellites, and the test is likely to generate reactions in several countries.”[35]

Related treatiesEdit

The Outer Space Treaty banned weapons of mass destruction in orbit and outer space but does not ban conventional weaponry in orbit. It is ratified by 98 countries, including China, and signed by 27 others.[36]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Nicholson, Brendon (January 20, 2007). "World fury at satellite destruction". The Age. Melbourne. Archived from the original on February 22, 2011.
  2. ^ Is China's Satellite Killer a Threat? (Tech Talk) Archived February 22, 2011, at WebCite
  3. ^ Covault, Craig (January 17, 2007). "Chinese Test Anti-Satellite Weapon". Aviation Week & Space Technology. McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Archived from the original on January 28, 2007. Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c BBC News (2007). Concern over China's missile test. Retrieved January 20, 2007. Archived February 22, 2011, at WebCite
  5. ^ "China admits satellite shot down". BBC News. January 23, 2007. Archived from the original on February 22, 2011. Retrieved January 23, 2007.
  6. ^ "China confirms anti-satellite missile test". The Guardian. London. January 23, 2007. Archived from the original on February 22, 2011. Retrieved January 23, 2007.
  7. ^ a b Covault, Craig (January 21, 2007). "China's Asat Test Will Intensify U.S.-Chinese Faceoff in Space". Aviation Week. Archived from the original on January 27, 2007. Retrieved January 21, 2007.
  8. ^ a b Gordon, Michael R.; Cloud, David S. (April 23, 2007). "U.S. Knew of China's Missile Test, but Kept Silent". New York Times. Retrieved April 24, 2007.
  9. ^ "Officials fear war in space by China". The Washington Times. January 24, 2007. Archived from the original on January 26, 2007. Retrieved February 19, 2007.
  10. ^ "Space to manoeuvre – Satellite attack upsets US space supremacy". Jane's Intelligence Review. February 7, 2007. Archived from the original on March 5, 2007. Retrieved February 19, 2007.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link) Or see archived version:
  11. ^ Joan Johnson-Freese. Heavenly Ambitions: America's Quest to Dominate Space. p. 12
  12. ^ Foust, Jeff (February 3, 2011). "WikiLeaks cables on US-China ASAT testing".
  13. ^ "China: Missile defense system test successful". USA Today. January 11, 2010.
  14. ^ "China carries out land-based mid-course missile interception test". Xinhua. January 28, 2013.
  15. ^ "Anti-satellite Tests in Space - The Case of China" (PDF). Secure World Foundation. August 16, 2013.
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Senator Clinton Questions Vice Admiral John M. McConnell, USN (ret), Director of National Intelligence and Lieutenant General Michael Maples, USA, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at a Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Worldwide Threats". February 27, 2007. Archived from the original on March 30, 2007. Retrieved April 24, 2007.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Ian Easton, The Great Game in Space: China's Evolving ASAT Weapons Programs and Their Implications for Future U.S. Strategy, Project 2049 Occasional Paper, June 24, 2009, p.2., [1] Archived August 30, 2017, at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ How China Loses the Coming Space War (Pt. 1) Archived September 5, 2009, at WebCite
  21. ^ CEOSR Satellite Receiving Station Archived February 22, 2011, at WebCite
  22. ^ "China says space programme is no threat". Agence France Presse. January 19, 2007. Retrieved January 22, 2007.[dead link]
  23. ^ New York Times (2007). China Shows Assertiveness in Weapons Test. Retrieved January 21, 2007.
  24. ^ "America threatened China over 'star wars'". smh. February 4, 2011. Archived from the original on July 9, 2011. Retrieved July 8, 2011.
  25. ^ "Chinese ASAT Test". Archived from the original on April 23, 2007. Retrieved April 18, 2007.
  26. ^ "ISS crew take to escape capsules in space junk alert". BBC. March 24, 2012. Retrieved March 24, 2012.
  27. ^ CelesTrak [@TSKelso] (October 21, 2016). "CelesTrak SATCAT updated earlier today to add 12 more pieces of FENGYUN 1C debris. That brings the total to 3,438 pieces with 571 decayed" (Tweet). Retrieved October 24, 2016 – via Twitter.
  28. ^ History of On-Orbit Satellite Fragmentations (PDF) (14th ed.). NASA Orbital Debris Program Office. May 2008. pp. 26, 386.
  29. ^ Vavrin, A. B. "Solar Cycle Sensitivity Study of Breakup Events in LEO" (PDF). Orbital Debris Quarterly. NASA Orbital Debris Program Office (January 2015). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 2, 2015.
  30. ^ "NASA monitoring space junk near International Space Station". CNN. April 5, 2011. Retrieved April 5, 2011.
  31. ^ Safi, Michael; Devlin, Hannah (April 2, 2019). "'A terrible thing': India's destruction of satellite threatens ISS, says Nasa". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved May 27, 2019.
  32. ^ "Sergei Ivanov considers reports on the rocket launch by China, that destroyed a satellite, exaggerated" (in Russian). Voice of Russia. January 20, 2007. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007.
  33. ^ Agence France-Presse (January 19, 2007). "Britain Concerned By Chinese Satellite Shoot-Down". Archived from the original on February 22, 2011.
  34. ^ Kestenbaum, David (January 19, 2007). "Chinese Missile Destroys Satellite in 500-Mile Orbit". National Public Radio. Archived from the original on February 22, 2011.
  35. ^ "Assessing China's ASAT program". Nautilus Institute at RMIT. Archived from the original on January 8, 2013. Retrieved August 1, 2012.
  36. ^ Outer Space Treaty Archived 2011-02-22 at WebCite. United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs

External linksEdit