China’s assertion that it is taking measures to limit debris generated by its space missions does not begin to make up for Beijing’s January test of an anti-satellite weapon that created tens of thousands of dangerous fragments in a high-traffic region of Earth orbit. But the debris-mitigation measures, if implemented, do represent a positive step.
According to Li Ming, head of the Chinese delegation to a July meeting of the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) in Toulouse, France, China is developing ways to better estimate fuel aboard its satellites so that they can be disposed of properly at the end of their service lives, and for venting unused fuel from spent rocket upper stages, which otherwise have a tendency to explode. Both measures will be helpful and are encouraging given China’s emergence and ambitions as a full-fledged spacefaring nation.
To be fair, China has a long way to go before its catches up to the United States and Russia in orbital-debris generation. But the deliberate destruction of one of its aging weather satellites likely went a long way toward closing the gap.
Mr. Li’s disclosure of the debris mitigation measures is an indication that China believes there is benefit to displaying good orbital citizenship. But the proof of Beijing’s seriousness will be in the follow through, and this will take several years to properly gauge.