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Did China just launch a secret satellite-destroying robot weapon into space?
China has just launched a robotic spacecraft into orbit with the intention to clean up man-made space debris and collect old, defunct satellites circling our planet. Or so the Chinese government claims. Some experts believe the small craft could be a space weapon that could be used by China's military to destroy enemy satellites.
The AoLong-1, also known as Roaming Dragon, was blasted from Southern China on 25 June in what is described as the first of a number of craft equipped with a robotic arm and a mission to spring clean the swathes of space junk in the Earth's orbit. It works by grabbing chunks of debris and crashes back to Earth in a safe location like the ocean – the idea being that it could prevent any large objects from crashing into major cities...
Or is it? According to the South China Morning Post, experts believe the Roaming Dragon could also serve as a military weapon that could take out enemy satellites in time of war.
A researcher with the National Astronomical Observatories in Beijing claims the job to clear space junk is so monumental and so complex it has raised scepticism as to whether the robot has an ulterior motive.
The researcher claims the Roaming Dragon has "potential as an anti-satellite weapon that, during wartime, could be used as deterrents or directly against enemy assets in space". Being small, lightweight and simple to launch the report states China could fill space with a swarm of the robots – great if they are there to sweep up debris that can damage operating satellites and the International Space Station, a worrying thought should they be used otherwise.
Space engineering experts cited further in the article, raising eyebrows. One source claimed "the development of the technology was mainly supported by the military, and kept confidential" posing questions as to what the military's interest in a 'cleaning spacecraft' would be. Others question the sophistication required of technology to be effective. The precision of the robotic arm would have to be so exact that doubt has arisen as to whether it would be capable of clearing any debris. "To get a firm grip, the arm must aim for a specific target area – something that in space is likely to be constantly changing," said the South China Morning Post.
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