New Chinese Lunar Satellite Has Intelligence Agency Concerned
A Chinese communications satellite positioned past the dark side of the moon is causing consternation among military space officials, an Air Force intelligence officer said Oct 12.
Within the last year, the Chinese have launched a relay satellite that is flying around "the flip side of the moon," said Jeff Gossel, a senior intelligence engineer at the Air Force's Space and Missiles Analysis Group. "That’s very telling to us."
“Why do you need a relay satellite flying around L2? So you can communicate with something that is going to either land on the other side of the moon, or fly around the other side of the moon,” he said during an event hosted by the Mitchell Institute in Washington, D.C. L2 refers to a stable gravitational point located in space just beyond the moon, according to NASA.
In May, China successfully launched the communications satellite, the Queqiao, as part of a large-scale lunar mission, NASA reported in May.
The satellite is in place to facilitate communications for a Chinese lunar exploration operation. The spacecraft will help China’s Chang’e-4, a robotic rover land on the moon, and send communications from the rover back to Earth, NASA said.
The concern surrounding the new satellite comes as the National Air and Space Intelligence Center questions China’s future space technologies from a weapons perspective, Gossel said.
If a weapon were to be fired from the far side of the moon it would be extremely difficult to detect or intercept, he said.
“The potential for an adversary to fly something around the moon and come back at us from a different angle is a great concern,” he added.
Meanwhile, Gossel said that while the analysis center has a focus on stopping adversaries, he is unsure whether standing up a space force will deter America’s enemies.
“Deterrence is a big thing, we do discuss that in terms of what do we do to provide deterrents for space effects and every other type of military operation,” he said. “But is it going to take a space force? I don’t know.”
President Donald Trump earlier this year announced his intention to stand up a sixth armed service branch focusing on Space. The move — which is being explored by the Pentagon — would require Congressional authorization.