China's satellite zapper

So what does it mean now that China has demonstrated it can shoot down a satellite in orbit?  It may be that the business of U.S. Empire just got a whole lot more expensive.

One thing's for sure: The capability is nothing to sneeze at.  The folks at Defense Tech write:

What could the U.S. do to stop Beijing, if it decided to attack an American orbiter next? Short answer: nothing.

It takes about 20 minutes to fire a ballistic missile into space, and have its "kill vehicle" strike a satellite at hypersonic speed — over 15,000 miles per hour — in low-earth orbit. That's far too quick for anything in the American arsenal to respond, in time. There's "no possibility of shielding" a relatively-fragile satellite against such a strike. "And it is impractical [for a satellite] to carry enough fuel to maneuver away even if you had specific and timely warning of an attack," Center for Defense Information analyst Theresea Hitchens notes.

The Financial Times reports: "The Chinese test may or may not lead to a new arms race in space. But it will certainly strengthen the hand of hawks in Washington who regard Chinese power as a strategic threat to the US."

All the same, the paper notes a couple of reasons China might have chosen now to go forward with the test.  First, there's the U.S. nuclear agreement with India, which Beijing might well interpret as Washington's attempt to create a "counterweight" to Chinese power in Asia.  (The paper might have also noted the longstanding China-India rivalry, including an unresolved border dispute that set off a war in 1962.)  Second, the FT notes that "last summer the Bush administration came out with a new policy asserting that the US regarded space as important a dimension for the nation’s security as air or sea power."

The Times of London suggests yet another, related, motive: China might be trying to goad Team Bush into backing off its pointed refusal to negotiate a global ban on the development of space weapons.  That's something both China and Russia have been pushing for.

So now the proverbial ball is in Team Bush's court.  Which will it be: A new generation of arms talks or a new and ruinously expensive arms race in space on top of a $2-trillion war in Iraq?