back to article China has a satellite with an arm – and America worries it could be used to snatch other spacecraft

US military leaders have claimed China has a satellite with a grappling arm, and said its existence highlights the needs for increased funding to match the Middle Kingdom and Russia's expanding orbital arsenals. In the hearing, US Space Command commander General James Dickinson outlined the current state of affairs as follows …

  1. Khaptain Silver badge

    Quick idea of the back of my head

    Maybe we should stop sending them all our money ?

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Re: Quick idea of the back of my head

      No, no, no. You miss understand. They are not making this statement to make you stop sending all your money to the US military complex. They are making this statement to make you send EVEN MORE.

      In other news, the US is spraying champaign because one of their satellites successfully grappled an on orbit satellite, and started to control it.

      1. Khaptain Silver badge

        Re: Quick idea of the back of my head

        I hope that most people understood that I meant China...

        1. Santa from Exeter

          Re: Quick idea of the back of my head

          Oh, I understood alright, and I suspect the first respondent did also.

          I also understand that China's goals in space may well be down to the Murica Fuck Yea arttitude of the US Military in regards to Space capability.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Quick idea of the back of my head

          Apparently BristolBachelor isn't a native English speaker.

          1. Alumoi Silver badge

            Re: Quick idea of the back of my head

            Damn, do you think it could be a Chinese?

      2. NoneSuch Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: Quick idea of the back of my head

        Governments lying to their citizens to get their way is not just a US or Chinese trait. It's pretty much universal.

  2. alain williams Silver badge

    Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

    if the squabbles up there continue, they will just cause zillions of fragments that will bump into other satellites causing more fragments.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

      So if the Chinese are going to use a robot arm to steal satellites they will be demonstrating an example of responsible warfare.

      I wonder if the US military were tempted to use the shuttle arm to nick an adversary's satellite?

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

        One wonders if they might not already have tried that? After all, how would we know?

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

          Well, they're not going to be able to try it with a Shuttle now.

          1. Francis Boyle

            Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

            As if the X37 doesn't have an arm.

            Yeah, for all I know, it might carry a giant inflatable penis in its equipment bay but I think an arm is more likely.

            1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

              Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

              X37 is too small for this (although who knows what is is actually doing).

              The Shuttles load bay was massive, but I can't remember whether any of the acknowledged missions ever retrieved a satellite from orbit.

              1. JDPower666

                Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

                Don't know if any were returned to Earth, but they certainly, publicly, captured several satellites (including Hubble of course), sometimes by hand.

                https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/may-13-1992-record-setting-spacewalk-on-shuttle-endeavours-first-mission

                1. Sven Coenye

                  Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

                  Palapala B-2 and Westar 6 were retrieved after launch mishaps left hem in unusable orbits. A few other things were also brought back but those were not functional satellites.

                  1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                    Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

                    The fact that the birds were retrieved gave the Soviets a SEVERE case of heartburn and confirmed their worst fears about Shuttle.

                    This moves very much into "Just because you CAN doesn't mean you SHOULD" territory

                    We need sensible adults in the room having sensible discussions about bringing down junk and the Americans are amongst the worst offenders for preventing this happening

        2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

          Because in Space, if you can see what you are doing, so can everyone else.

      2. macjules Silver badge

        Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

        If I was going be an ultra sneaky superpower bent upon planetary domination I might include a small nuclear warhead on my satellites, just in case a rival tried to nick one.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

          Why nuclear? I doubt they will be bringing anything down, merely disrupting/destroying it. This isn't a Bond movie, and these aggressor satellites are not as large as Shuttles.

          As a counter, a relatively small charge, or even an emergency de-orbit operation to drag the aggressor satellite down or alter it's orbit would probably be enough (you would have to hope that by the time the ground notice the orbital change, it will be too late to correct it).

          It's the GPS (and GLONASS, Galileo or BeiDou by extension) networks that are probably most at risk of attack. Many weapon system look like they rely on those now. In order to disable those weapons, change the orbit of a dozen or so GPS satellites they rely on. Merely altering the orbit a bit will make a GPS satellite useless, as high precision positioning relies on a critical number of operational GPS satellites to be above the horizon to get a time fix.

          Or how about having the Tachikomas de-orbit their brain satellite to collide with the aggressor!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Why nuclear?

            Perhaps it might vaporise everything, leading to less significant debris? :-)

            (or perhaps not, I'm no expert on orbital nuclear demolition)

            1. james 68

              Re: Why nuclear?

              Nuclear would give off a hell of an EMP turning many other sats into dead tumbling uncontrolled objects leading to a chain reaction yadda yadda.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: dead tumbling uncontrolled objects leading to a chain reaction yadda yadda.

                OK, so you are saying we need not just one nuke, but a sort of giant orbit-spanning cluster of nuclear detonations? :-)

                1. james 68

                  Re: dead tumbling uncontrolled objects leading to a chain reaction yadda yadda.

                  Would make for a pretty light show, the explosions and the resulting aurora.

          2. quxinot Silver badge

            Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

            I wouldn't grab things with an arm. I'd shoot a weighted net at them, and screw their mass up. Figure they'd run out of any fuel long before figuring out what happened and be able to correct it.

            1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

              Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

              "I'd shoot a weighted net at them, and screw their mass up."

              Firing anything destabilises you. You also have to lift that mass into orbit and manage it. And it gives you a finite number of disruptions. (How many weighted nets do you carry?)

              You can probably do more damage with an arm.

              1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

                Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

                Barometric pressure switch, 100g of C4 and 200g of ball bearings.

                That's why the USAF dropped out of the shuttle program - after ruining it with their requirements.

                It would almost be worth launching worthless 'secret' satellites just to have the other side waste time and resources capturing them - especially if each capture resulted in the loss of an expensive capture vehicle.

                The opposition could hardly complain that your satellite was booby-trapped and destroyed their spy mission trying to steal it.

              2. zuckzuckgo Bronze badge

                Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

                Orbital rail guns would be effective. Solar panels to recharge. Fire light weight projectiles a high energies to disable or alter target orbit. Choose your firing angle so the projectiles reaction mass helps push you toward your next target.

      3. Lord Kipper III

        Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

        Well, it has happened (although in Mexico and not in actual space);

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zoE4m8RqOWs

        The Story Of How The CIA Stole & Returned A Soviet Spacecraft Before Being Noticed

      4. hittitezombie

        Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

        It was designed for it from day 1.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

        "I wonder if the US military were tempted to use the shuttle arm to nick an adversary's satellite?"

        Tempted? I think that capability drove many of the shuttle's design decisions.

    2. hittitezombie

      Re: Low earth orbits will be unusable ...

      At least one of favourite mangas would have a chance to become a reality (Planetes).

  3. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    When will they ever learn? Can they ever learn, or is AIdDivine Intervention Required ‽

    Have you ever wondered how the West [Uncle Sam, Five Eyes, NATO Allies and other piggybacking limpet forces] would fare and justify their constant clarion call for ever expanding fiat currency resources/nationalised virtual blood and treasure if the East wasn't there for them to paint and treat as an enemy always threatening intimidating neighbours with overwhelming forces and superior technology, believed either secretly home grown and naturally indigenous or advanced and improved, successfully pirated and reverse engineered Western ware converted and subverted for warfare?

    Peace would create for them a real problem, methinks, and a great difficulty which they would struggle miserably and fail spectacularly to address and resolve to any degree of universal satisfaction.

    Such more than just suggests a most definite lack of Advanced IntelAIgents and Simple Common Sense with endemic systemic human learning difficulties contributing inordinately to rapid systems demises/Elitist SCADA Executive Office collapses ........ which of course one can fully expect to be comprehensively exploited to an nth degree.

    By whom and/or what, and to what end purposes, is a whole new other world to get into in order to have any hope at all of being instructive and effective in its myriad novel active fields. Stepping through that portal is nothing less than a giant quantum leap for mankind. And it is not without its necessary perils which ensure and guarantee only the best of behaviours is allowed and generously graciously shared so take extreme extraordinarily especial care.

  4. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    A satellite junk collector ...

    Let's think about this ...

    Space harpoons, space nets, space impactors, space robot grapplers, in-orbit satellite refuelers, in-orbit assembly robots ... all terrible news. But all are "friendly" methods and ideas for approaching redundant satellites and debris to remove it. Yes, all *could* be used as military "enemy satellite" removal tools but they are not, and that's obviously true because the frendly powers that designed/built them said so ...

    We see China building a satellite with a robot arm and manoeuvring closer to a second satellite as if to grapple it ... I'm not sure which heading above it fits into but it's obviously very, very military and dangerous to friendly forces so give us millions to militarise space - "SPACE FORCE FOREVER!" (or whatever they've decided to steal from a film and chant)

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

      Re: A satellite junk collector ...

      In fairness the Soviets beat everyone to it having an actual canon in space (not the point and click but point and clunk - no boom since its a vacuum and all that).

      The promise of not military in space is naive in the extreme to think that no one would ever dare. Its just that they at least try to hide it and not make a huge fuss over it. No large scale space navy battles.. Its abit like Nukes. Everyone knows they're still working on them but they just don't openly test them (except for fringe lunatics in hermit states).

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: A satellite junk collector ...

        Its abit like Nukes. Everyone knows they're still working on them but they just don't openly test them (except for fringe lunatics in hermit states).

        Did I miss the Americans starting testing again?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: A satellite junk collector ...

          >Did I miss the Americans starting testing again?

          They do it in Detroit now so nobody notices and nobody cares

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: A satellite junk collector ...

        " the Soviets beat everyone to it having an actual canon in space"

        Yes, but they found out the hard way that firing it was a VERY BAD IDEA

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A satellite junk collector ...

      Can we start a petition to make the Space Force salute the routine from the Three Amigos?

      "Space Force, huh!"

      1. Blofeld's Cat Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: A satellite junk collector ...

        "... Space Force salute ...

        Or alternatively a "triple Rimmer".

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A satellite junk collector ...

        That's a decent one, but I prefer the Spaceballs salute.

  5. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Beat that!

    > China has a satellite with a grappling arm

    So presumably the americans will feel obliged to build a satellite with two and the russians will declare they are making one with three

    Thus leading to an arms race in space.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Beat that!

      "Thus leading to an arms race in space."

      Arm wrestling in spaaace!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Beat that!

      boo, you beat me to it! :(((

    3. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Beat that!

      "Why are you punching yourself?"

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Beat that!

        Don't bother stopping him, it's armless...

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Beat that!

      Блядь, а ведь это идея, - подумал Сергей Лавров.

    5. cyberdemon Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Beat that!

      You forgot to pick your icon, and your coat.

      Go on, out you go.

    6. spireite Bronze badge
      Coat

      Re: Beat that!

      Only so many puns in this, so I'll have to hand it to the OP.

      THis thread doesn't have many legs left in it, so I'll just leave you with a thigh-five.

  6. JohnBuckle

    "Mr. President, we must not allow... a space arm gap!"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Northrop Grumman's MEV-2 doesn't have an arm, that I recall, but presumably it might be repurposed to a similar end as this Chinese arm-enabled thingy?

  7. Danny Boyd Bronze badge

    Laughable

    Why grapple satellites or take them out one-by-one with a laser? Three-five nuclear explosions in space, and whole constellations of satellites are dead.

    Somebody in Pentagon must have stumbled on James Bond's "Dr. No" movie all of a sudden. Even there, the perpetrators were after manned space capsules, not satellites.

    1. MacroRodent Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Laughable

      > Three-five nuclear explosions in space, and whole constellations of satellites are dead.

      That would probably destroy half the satellites out there, including your own, and blow up electric and communications networks on the ground as well. Google the "Starfish Prime" nuclear test from 1962. At that time there were few satellites up, and people did not yet rely on them as much as now. Just imagine the mayhem it would cause today.

    2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Laughable

      This comes back to SPACE IS BIG. There seems to be at least 30° of arc between them at an orbital radius of 26,600 km. Maybe two planes get a bit closer. But I'd be surprised if you could take out more than one bird with a nuke.

      And there are 32 satellites of which at least 24 are needed. So to degrade the experience you have to take out at least 9.

      1. MacroRodent Silver badge

        Re: Laughable

        The Starfish Prime test generated temporary radiation belts, with charged particles racing along magnetic field lines. So all the energy is not radiated uniformly. I would speculate that with a suitable placed nuke, you could take out most satellites within a given "orange slice" of orbital space.

      2. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Bronze badge

        Re: Laughable

        Space is big but not homogeneous. The radiation from a nuclear detonation in space would strongly affect the ionosphere and add a lot of high energy ions. They'll do a lot of damage over a long distance from the initial blast.

        Basically, to do damage with a nuke in space you don't need to hit anything with it, you don't even need to get close.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Laughable

        "I'd be surprised if you could take out more than one bird with a nuke."

        Starfish Prime took out virtually everything in direct line of sight AND a lot of stuff not in line of sight which flew through the charged electron clouds resulting from the explosion. Telstar was knocked out by it - and was launched some time AFTER the detonation!

    3. Richard Pennington 1

      Re: Laughable

      Not "Dr. No". "You Only Live Twice" is much nearer the plotline.

  8. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Oh sure

    "China is building military space capabilities rapidly, including sensing and communication systems and numerous antisatellite weapons "

    This from the country that still clings to the fable of modified mainboards from Huawei, despite never having ever brought a shred of proof to the table.

    I'd ask for proof on this, but we all know that the answer will be : "Classified".

    Of course the US military is hyping up the dangers. I completely believe China is building itself up. Why wouldn't it ? It has a bunch of American warships off its shores 24/7 (for many reasons, I know). But how do you know about any ground-based anti-satellite weaponry ? Did the Chinese military send you pics ?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Oh sure

      >But how do you know about any ground-based anti-satellite weaponry

      Because they stole the plans for ours

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    China has a satellite with an arm

    miss, miss, he stole me comment! :(((

  10. Def Silver badge

    My solution.

    I think we should just ban all governments and military from participating in space ventures.

    Leave it to commercial enterprises (pun intended) run by professionals (and grown ups).

    1. FlamingDeath Silver badge

      Re: My solution.

      The only thing the military industrial complex should be allowed to play with is lego.

      Bunch of fucken HeMans

      1. Def Silver badge

        Re: My solution.

        No. Bad idea. You know they'd just leave it all over the floor for you to step on.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    0pt10na1

    https://youtu.be/2Q_ZzBGPdqE

    The Beatles - Help

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge
      1. Tail Up

        Re: 0pt10na1

        By Lock Or Stock

        https://youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_n9q-ezB2RZF1WS7PR3h3drrTgNCf-DRSk

        The Beatles - Revolver

        https://youtu.be/42Tah0DCubg

        Billy Joel - Back in the USSR / A matter of trust --The bridge to Russia

  12. andy gibson

    satellite with an arm?

    Wasn't this the plot in Netflix's "Space Force"?

  13. Al fazed
    Mushroom

    NASA has a space station with an arm too, it recently used it to fling 9 tonnes of used batteries into the galactic ocean, so watch out China yeah.............

    Alf

    1. Bryan B

      Technically the arm is Canadian, it was 2.9 tons, and the station is multi-national - but IKWYM. (-;

      1. Tail Up

        .Just like a roller coaster (-:

  14. TRT Silver badge

    China has a satellite with an arm

    Who cares what processors they use in their space programme?

  15. FlamingDeath Silver badge

    Space Force!

    https://youtu.be/92LDtH2ZB-w

  16. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Space Cowboys

    It was a great movie and it predicted the future in many ways, you think the Chinese are the only people doing this sort of thing?

  17. FlamingDeath Silver badge

    As I understand it, the military, their role is to protect its interests

    It is in nobodies interest, to start fighting like bloody animals while in orbit. Honestly, the day this fuckwit species discovered they’ve been roaming around on a sphere, is the day all human conflict should have stopped.

    If I had one piece of advice for this fuckwit species, it would be “GET YOUR FUCKING NOSE

    OUT OF THE FUCKING SHIT”

  18. wolfetone Silver badge

    What's the problem? America had been doing that for years with the space shuttle.

    Well, I would assume that's what they were doing. It's hard to know as the military missions the space shuttles flew are, obviously, classified.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Their remote space arm was fitted with a remote space finger for picking their remote space nose cone.

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      If you swap the US and China around in Dickinson's speech, it actually makes more sense.

      What I read from that is the States is losing its advantages over everyone else and they don't like it.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Yes and the problem is that a nuclear armed country losing the #1 position might have a nuclear tantrum

  19. StrangerHereMyself Bronze badge

    Arm the sats

    Just add a small anti-aircraft cannon to some keep that satellite at arms-length, so to speak.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Arm the sats

      Soviets did it.

      https://www.theregister.com/2009/08/19/almaz_reborn/

      1. StrangerHereMyself Bronze badge

        Re: Arm the sats

        I know that. That's why I mentioned it.

  20. Duffaboy
    Joke

    Look after Mr Bond.

    See that some harm comes to him...

  21. PaulR79

    Smackdown defense

    Simple solution - add an arm with an open-palmed hand that detects the grabby hand of Chinese suppression and just before contact is made it slaps the grabby hand away. In turn the slap sends the offending satellite spiralling away in a similar way to Team Rocket when they inevitably blast off again.

  22. Slx

    There really needs to be some kind of stronger and more enforced international agreements on satellites, particularly about what to do with the junk. We can't really afford to just junk another chunk of environment to the point that it's unusable.

    If useful orbits end up full of fragments and broken up satellites, we're going to lose easy access to Space.

    1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

      stronger and more enforced international agreements on satellites

      Enforced how, and by whom?

  23. JohnMurray

    I am getting the feeling someone in the pentagon has been watching Space Force on Netflix, and thinking.......................

    1. ITS Retired

      "Thinking" and "Pentagon" in the same sentence? To say nothing about including "Space Force" in the same sentence also?

      You're good.

  24. HildyJ Silver badge
    Boffin

    Reality

    1) Everyone knows where everything (more than a few inches in diameter) is in space.

    2) Sneaking up on a satellite is impossible.

    3) A grappling arm has limited capabilities, none of them suitable for offense, James Bond non-withstanding.

    4) The basic goal of a satellite arm is for rehabilitating old satellites (e.g. recharging, refueling, relocation).

    5) The first successful use of this was a year ago with Lockheed Martin and Intelsat.

    6) All government departments of all governments are always seeking increased funding, often by pointing to other governments.

  25. DS999 Silver badge

    Who needs an arm?

    Northrup Grummand (a big US defense contractor) launched last year a satellite that can "grab" other satellites and take over their maneuvering. It is being used to extend the life of an Intelsat satellite that ran out of fuel.

    That same technology can do everything bad a Chinese satellite with an "arm" can do. Given their background it is fairly likely the technology was originally developed for the military an unknown number of years ago, and they got permission from the DoD to offer it commercially.

  26. Claptrap314 Silver badge
    Coat

    The proper counter to grappling in space

    Is to punch in space. Even white belts should know this. Just watch out for the kickers!

  27. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Alert

    [One Armed] Bandits Ahead!

    China is upsetting accepted conventions that this sort of thing is for privateers bent on world domination, not state actors

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Northrop

    Already offer this as a service...

  29. Flat Phillip

    Space Force predicted this

    China needs the arm so you can cut the solar cells off the American satellites.

    Also to steal the treasonous monkey.

    1. MOH

      Re: Space Force predicted this

      That was my immediate thought.

      They're after the monkey!

  30. Sanguma

    Uncle Sam and that saying about Microsoft Windows?

    You know, the one about it being a:

    thirty-two bit extension and graphical shell to a sixteen bit patch to an eight bit operating system originally coded for a four bit microprocessor which was written by a two-bit company that can't stand one bit of competition.

    Uncle Sam says, "I resemble that!!!"

  31. gdfsquiq

    James Bond is the ideas factory here ?

    This feels like I am back in the 80s watching christmas movies. An arm is a lot lower tech than the "devouring rocket"

  32. CrackedNoggin Bronze badge

    'Ere 'ere. no 'arm done. Just croppin' a quick feel.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "World on Verge of Nuclear War after China Sat gropes US Sat from Behind"

    "Chivalry will be honoured!" declares POTUS, vowing to "slap them in the space race face".

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021