Report: China Has Developed an Operational Space Tug

Breaking Defense has an interesting report about China developing satellite servicing capabilities:

China’s SJ-21 satellite now “appears to be functioning as a space tug,” pulling a dead CompassG2, or Beidou, navigation satellite out of the way of other satellites operating in the heavily populated Geosynchronous Orbit, according to a new analysis by commercial space monitoring firm ExoAnalytic Solutions.

The observations were reported today by Brien Flewelling, who serves as the firm’s chief architect for space situational awareness (SSA), during a webinar hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Secure World Foundation (SWF).

According to Flewelling’s video presentation, the SJ-21 on Jan. 22 went “missing” from its orbital slot for a few hours, after performing what are known as “close proximity operations,” moving closer and closer around the Compass G2. The “gap” in observations was caused by the fact that when it then docked with the defunct satellite, it was daytime — when telescopes cannot image. ExoAnalytics tracked it down after it had subsequently performed “a large maneuver” pulling the dead satellite out of GEO.