Private space services company LeoLabs has recently released data that appears to show a Chinese reusable space vehicle docking with or otherwise capturing a separate object on a number of occasions during its 276-day orbital stint. The Drive reported that this information is alarming, as it suggests that China's space tech could be used to monitor, disrupt, or even attack a political opponent's presence in space.
The state-run China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) has not provided details about the tech's time in orbit, and they did not provide many details about the spacecraft's initial launch back in August 2022.
LeoLabs posted on Twitter: "Since its launch on 4 August 2022, we observed multiple large maneuvers raising the object’s altitude — as well as repeated deployments, formation flying, and docking of a sub-satellite Object J (NORAD ID 54218)."
"We’ve determined that the Test Spacecraft2 has propulsive capability and engaged in proximity operations with Object J, including what appeared to be at least two and possibly three capture/docking operations."
"Object J" is a moniker that the US military gave to the object that was launched along with the reusable spacecraft on August 4. The Drive reported that information about the object is available to the US-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) through Space-Track.org. NORAD has apparently assigned an identification number to the object, 54218.
Curiously, Object J (or 54218) was not added to Space-Track.org's informational database until around two months after it had already launched. There were eight other objects associated with the space vehicle's launch, which are catalogued as A-H. All of these were added to the database immediately after the launch in August.
The Drive noted that the letter "I" was skipped, so as not to mistake it for the number one. The report noted that object A was the space vehicle itself, B was the rocket booster, and C-H were different forms of debris. However, there is currently no certainty as to what Object J is, or how it fit into the Chinese mission.
LeoLabs has suggested that whatever Object J is, it appears to have significant abilities to maneuver within close proximity and interact with other objects in orbit, which could raise interantional concerns, as it relates to space missions.