Surprise: Chinese space tug tows defunct satellite into graveyard orbit
(30 Jan 2022) The mystery regarding China's recently launched Shijian 21 experimental has been resolved – at least partially. The spacecraft has rendezvoused with a defunct geosynchronous Beidou navsat and towed it into a graveyard orbit.
Chinese state media had said the SJ-21, launched in October 2021, was designed to "test and verify space debris mitigation technologies." The spacecraft was manufactured by state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).
Shijian-21 undocked from Beidou-2 G2 on 26 January, leaving the defunct satellite in a disposal orbit. Shijian-21 has since returned to GEO, according to U.S. tracking data.
Beidou-2 G2 had failed in orbit following its 2009 launch, has been drifting since 2010 and may have partially fragmented at some point.
Interestingly, another object resulted from the SJ-21 launch which was identified as TJS-3 AKM. It was likely an observer subsatellite used to monitor SJ-21's operations. It has apparently been decommissioned as it remains in graveyard orbit.
[Some observers noted that while removing defunct satellites from geosynchronous orbit should be unanimously applauded, it remains somewhat unclear why China has remained almost completely intransparent about this mission. Even now there has been no official statement. – Ed.]
Reference: Fox News, Space News