Written by By Iain Withers, CNN
In a dramatic move that could have profound repercussions in civil and military spheres, China launched two weather satellites into orbit from its Jiuquan launch base in western China on Monday.
The announcement was widely covered by the Chinese media, the state-run Global Times reported, with the Xinhua news agency calling the program a “milestone in the peaceful development of space.”
The launch comes one day after Taiwan suspended arms sales to Beijing after the new U.S. president signed a bill recognizing it as a “normal” sovereign nation.
The satellites, named HEY-10 and HEY-9, measure about 60 feet in length and approximately 12 feet tall, and carry a 20-inch-diameter solar panel dish for the nation’s probe into a global dust storm, which signals an effort to eventually land on an asteroid and discover the location of an uncharted meteorite.
The satellites were scheduled to be launched on Sunday but a Chinese weather satellite suffered a malfunction shortly after launch, said a spokesman at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.
All three satellites are heading toward low-earth orbit, he added.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told reporters that U.S. officials in New York are concerned about the resolution passed by China’s Communist Party during the party’s plenum.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Haley said, “We’re concerned about China sending a diplomatic message that they can interfere in U.S. territory with their development of a military force.”
The resolution, dubbed “The Peaceful Development of Space,” was reported to “express strong support for China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, urges cooperation to prevent arms race in outer space, and welcomes China’s peaceful space development.”
‘Conflict risks are a result of misunderstanding’
A former PLA official told a Los Angeles Times reporter that China has a strong legal basis for the spacecraft launch.
“There’s a disparity of understanding, not between China and the West, but between China and America,” Zeng Qi, a visiting fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, told the newspaper.
“A bigger fear for China is what space weapons might look like — and what might happen if China did things unintentionally — and therefore I think it’s not that dramatic to send these satellites into orbit with these kinds of controls,” he added.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley listens to remarks from China’s Ambassador to the United Nations Liu Jieyi before a Security Council meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York on September 10, 2017. AFP
China does have separate, government-run space missions of its own, including the Chang’e-4 lander and rover and the Tiangong-2 space laboratory.
The Tiangong-2 was placed into orbit on September 1 on a Long March 5 rocket from the Jiuquan facility, with the goal of staying up for two years, according to state-run Xinhua news agency.
But despite the launch of the spacecraft, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told a Congressional panel in August that China’s long-anticipated space station, which has been called Tiangong-3, may take up to six years to complete.
Construction on the Tiangong-2 began in 2011 and it was expected to be launched into space in 2013, but it has now been delayed at least several times.
The International Space Station is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2024, as international space policy becomes less reliant on the Russians and more of a mixed U.S.-European-Japanese space collaboration.
Since the early 1980s, the U.S. and the USSR have collectively maintained the International Space Station as a multi-national spacecraft that was almost completely funded by the government.