Here's something that could really put a damper on US-China trade talks.
Two weeks after DNI Dan Coats warned about US adversaries expanding "their use of space-based reconnaissance, communications and navigations systems," Bloomberg reported that China's recent development of "sophisticated" capabilities for "satellite inspection and repair" and "space debris cleanup" might actually be a ruse for something far more nefarious.
At least some of these capabilities "could also function” as weapons against US satellites, the Defense Intelligence Agency has said. Because the technology used to clean up space debris could easily serve a "dual purpose."
The increase in what’s essentially orbiting garbage that could damage or destroy a satellite “has implications for policymakers worldwide and is encouraging the development of space debris removal technology,” the agency said Monday in an unclassified publication on threats to U.S. satellites.
But "this technology is dual-use because it could be used to damage another satellite," it said.
China's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that the allegations were "groundless," though it acknowledged that, since the US has itself acknowledged the importance of developing space weapons, this could lead to their becoming a "reality."
"Recently the U.S. has defined outer space as a battlefield and announced the establishment of an outer space force," spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a briefing in Beijing. "So this may lead to the reality of the weaponization and endangerment of outer space."
To be sure, as it multiplies, the issue of space debris is becoming an increasingly serious problem.
Of about 21,000 large objects in space that are least 10 centimeters (4 inches) in size that are tracked and cataloged in Earth’s orbit, only about 1,800 are active satellites, according to the defense agency. The rest is debris, including parts of spacecraft.
More than a third of all recorded debris is from two events: China’s use of a missile in 2007 to destroy a defunct satellite and the accidental collision between a U.S. communications satellite and a defunct Russian one in 2009.
From 1998 through 2017, the International Space Station, which is in low Earth orbit, maneuvered at least 25 times to avoid potential orbital collisions, the intelligence agency said.
Of course, China and the US aren't alone in purportedly developing space weapons. Russia has been pursuing them, too. Luckily, the Pentagon budget has set aside money to start building that first "Space Force" base.
It certainly might make one wonder: How far away are we from "Death Star" levels of destruction?