China works in space on a very useful project. The Shijian-21 spacecraft, a satellite, is testing technologies that will free the Earth’s orbit of space debris in the future. After the successful start and beginning of the mission, however, according to observations by the US military, a hitherto unknown object appeared nearby. It appeared to be orbiting the satellite.
China: space mission with unknown companion
On October 23, Shijian-21 was launched into space by rocket. China’s state news agency Xinhua then reported that the satellite had “successfully entered the planned orbit”. It should “mainly be used to test and verify technologies for the containment of space debris”.
While China was keeping a low profile on Shijian-21, according to Gizmodo, the US military, more precisely the Space Force, reported an unusual activity a few weeks later: an object flying next to the satellite.
It was cataloged as a so-called “apogee kick motor” and named “2021-094C”. These are usually used to transport satellites from transfer orbit into geostationary orbit (GEO). When placed there, satellites are ideally always above the same point on the earth’s surface.
“Very rare”: Expert doubts engine theory
However, if you believe an expert, this classification of the discovered object is not necessarily also correct. As astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics explained, it is “very rare” for satellites to repel said motor after being used in the GEO. This happens “almost always” before a satellite takes its final position in the GEO. It is even “a very bad idea” to repel an object within geostationary orbit. This would mean the risk of a collision.
As SpaceNews.com confirmed, “It is currently unknown whether this is one [Apogäum-Kickmotor]”An object related to the space debris containment tests” or part of other tests. In addition, according to McDowell, there is the apparently synchronized distance between the satellite and the object: “If they [den Motor] had just repelled and said bye-bye, they would be a steadily increasing [räumliche] Expect separation. ”
Instead, the astrophysicist suspects that Shijian-21 and 2021-094C are working together and possibly monitoring radio signals from other GEO satellites. In order to assess this more precisely, one has to wait and see whether one of the two objects carries out some kind of maneuver.
China may have “spies” stationed in space
“I don’t know why the Space Force thinks these second objects are apogee kick motors – that’s just a (wrong) estimate on your part, or do they have secret sensor data that lead them to this conclusion?”
Jonathan McDowell, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Something similar was observed in China’s Tongxin Jishu Shiyan-3 (TJS-3) space satellite as early as 2018. This had a “sub-satellite” with which it carried out pair maneuvers including manipulation, according to SpaceNews.com. At that time, too, it was classified as an engine.
by the way: In addition to space projects in Earth orbit, China is also carrying out its own Mars mission, as the pictures show.
Sources: Gizmodo, SpaceNews.com