|Country||People's Republic of China|
|Organization||China Academy of Space Technology (CAST)|
|First flight||3 March 1971|
|Last flight||8 January 2023|
Shijian (simplified Chinese: 实践; traditional Chinese: 實踐; pinyin: Shíjiàn; lit. 'Practice', abbr. "SJ") is a series of satellites built and operated by the People's Republic of China. Some Shijian-series satellites have drawn significant concerns from the United States government and space observers who cite unannounced launches, undisclosed sub-satellites deployed in orbit, unusual orbital maneuvers, and demonstrated rendezvous proximity operations (RPO) including the close inspection and towing of other satellites.
Little is known about the series and what differentiates it from other experimental satellite series launched by China such as the Chuangxin (Chinese: 创新; pinyin: Chuàngxīn; lit. 'Innovation') series or Shiyan (Chinese: 实验; pinyin: Shíyàn; lit. 'Experiment') series. The China Aerospace Studies Institute of the United States Air Force asserts that Shiyan-series satellites play an earlier role in the systems development process testing various new technologies on a single bus while Shijan-series satellites are used to develop operational best practices and optimize the technologies previously tested on Shiyan-series satellites. In this regard "Shijian" should be translated as "best practice", or "put into practice" while "Shiyan" ought to be translated as "experiment", "pilot", or "trial".
In a April 2021 written statement to the US Senate Armed Services Committee, General James H. Dickinson, Commander of United States Space Command (USSPACECOM) was the first US official to speak publicly on Shijian-17 warning of its counterspace capabilities. General Dickinson wrote "Beijing actively seeks space superiority through space and space attack systems. One notable object is the Shijian-17, a Chinese satellite with a robotic arm. Space-based robotic arm technology could be used in a future system for grappling other satellites." Shijian-17's robotic arm also earned mention in the United States Department of Defense 2022 China Military Power Report.
Shijian-17 has also prompted concern among observers who have tracked Shijian-17's unique orbital maneuvers. Since its launch, Shijian-17 has occupied a wide span of orbital positions within its geostationary orbit to dynamically adjust its position relative to neighboring satellites. These varied positions have ranged from 37.7°E over Africa to 180°E over the Marshall Islands, uncharacteristic of other satellites designed for communications. Shijian-17 has also positioned itself as close as 55 kilometers to other satellites for periods of a week or more while other geostationary satellites maintain an average 207-kilometer separation distance.
Shijian-18 was a Chinese communications and technology demonstration satellite developed and launched by the China Academy of Space Technology on 2 July 2017. It was the maidan flight of the DHF-5 satellite bus, which is designed with 16-year lifespan. Shijian-18 carried 18 experiments on board involving communications and space telescopes. It was lost after a malfunction on the Long March 5 rocket carrying the satellite. It would have been the heaviest geostationary satellite at the time of its launch, with a launch mass of 7,600 kg (16,800 lb). The satellite incorporated a high-thrust ion propulsion system, a large trussed structure and a higher payload capacity. More specifically, it used the LIPS-300 xenon thruster for orbit keeping, developed by the Lanzhou Institute of Physics. It was planned for the LIPS-300 system to be fully certified in this mission so that it could be used for geostationary and deep-space operations. The satellite would operate at the Ka band with 70 Gb/s capacity, capable of providing broadband internet to whole mainland China.
Shijian-18 launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Site on 2 July 2017 at 11:23 UTC on board a Long March 5 rocket to a geostationary orbit. It was the rocket's second flight, the first being to launch Shijian-17. The rocket encountered an anomaly shortly after launch, causing it to switch into a gentler trajectory. However, 45 minutes into the flight, it was declared a failure, with the loss of the payload. The cause of the failure was later determined to be a faulty oxidizer turbopump, which has now been redesigned twice. The rocket and payload crashed in the Pacific Ocean somewhere at the Philippine Sea.
In October 2021, China launched Shijian 21 (SJ-21) from Xichang Space Launch Center (XSLC) aboard a Long March 3B rocket into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). Atypically, China issued no notifications prior to the launch confirming only after the satellite's successful launch. China's official state news media organization, Xinhua News Agency, described SJ-21 as a On-Orbit Service, Assembly, and Manufacturing (OSAM) satellite that would be "mainly used to test and verify space debris mitigation technologies." A month after its launch, SJ-21 drew some suspicion from space observers as an object, described to be an undeclared sub-satellite, began orbiting closely alongside SJ-21 shortly after its entry into geosynchronous orbit (GEO). The object was initially cataloged as a apogee kick motor (AKM) by the US Space Force's 18th Space Defense Squadron (SDS), however many doubt that a discarded motor would maintain the constant and proximate orbit with SJ-21 instead of gradually drifting away. SJ-21 drew further suspicion in January 2022 when, according to commercial space monitoring firm ExoAnalytic Solutions, SJ-21 went "missing" from its orbital slot to dock with defunct Beidou G2 (Compass G2) navigation satellite capitalizing on the inability of optical satellites to track space-objects during the day. Shijian-21 then moved to an orbit 3,000 kilometers higher where it released the Beidou G2 satellite into graveyard orbit and returned to GEO.
Many observers suspect the spacecraft, like many of China's Yaogan and Gaofen satellites, serve primarily military purposes under the cover of more mundane missions. With SJ-21's demonstrate capability to tug satellites from their orbit and China's increasing interest in space power, the spacecraft likely also offers the Chinese government a tool for counterspace operations. Victoria Samson, the Washington Office director for the Secure World Foundation said "You could look at China working to develop the capability to remove inactive satellites on orbit as a way in which it is being a responsible space actor and cleaning up debris that it caused. Or you could use the lens that a lot of the US-based China watchers use and say that this could indicate that China is developing an on-orbit offensive capability." Samson also praised commercial space situational awareness (SSA) providers for presenting the public and academia with satellite tracking capabilities previously exclusive to government. China received criticism for its lack of transparency on Shijian-21's operations.
|Name||Launch||Function||Orbit||Orbital apsis||Inclination||SCN||COSPAR ID||Launch site||Launcher||Status|
|Shijian 1||3 March 1971||Particle measurements of cosmic rays||LEO||266 km × 1826 km||69.9°||5007||1971-018A||JSLC||Long March 1||Decayed|
|Shijian 2||19 September 1981||Space dust/debris and EM study||LEO||232 km × 1598 km||59.4°||12845||1981-093D||JSLC||Feng Bao 1||Decayed|
|Shijian 2A||19 September 1981||Space dust/debris and EM study||LEO||232 km × 1615 km||59.4°||12843||1981-093B||JSLC||Feng Bao 1||Decayed|
|Shijian 2B||19 September 1981||Space dust/debris and EM study||LEO||232 km × 1608 km||59.4º||12842||1981-093A||JSLC||Feng Bao 1||Decayed|
|Shijian 3||N/A||Earth observation||Cancelled, replaced by CBERS ZY-1|
|Shijian 4||8 February 1994||Space radiation monitoring||HEO||210 km × 36125 km||28.6º||22996||1994-010A||XSLC||Long March 3A||Decayed|
|Shijian 5||10 May 1999||Test new minisatellite platform, particle measurement||SSO||569 km × 849 km||98.8°||25731||1999-025B||TSLC||Long March 4B||Decayed|
|Shijian 6-01B||8 September 2004||Space environment monitoring or ELINT||SSO||585.4 km × 585.2 km||97.7°||28414||2004-035B||TSLC||Long March 4B||Operational|
|Shijian 6-01A||8 September 2004||Space environment monitoring or ELINT||SSO||579.8 km × 596.7 km||97.7°||28413||2004-035A||TSLC||Long March 4B||Operational|
|Shijian 6-02A||23 October 2006||Space environment monitoring or ELINT||SSO||591.0 km × 593.4 km||97.8°||29506||2006-046B||TSLC||Long March 4B||Operational|
|Shijian 6-02B||23 October 2006||Space environment monitoring or ELINT||SSO||583.1 km × 587.7 km||97.8°||29505||2006-046A||TSLC||Long March 4B||Operational|
|Shijian 6-03A||25 October 2008||Space environment monitoring or ELINT||SSO||576.5 km × 599.1 km||97.8°||33409||2008-053B||TSLC||Long March 4B||Operational|
|Shijian 6-03B||25 October 2008||Space environment monitoring or ELINT||SSO||573.9 km × 600.1 km||97.9°||33408||2008-053A||TSLC||Long March 4B||Operational|
|Shijian 6-04A||6 October 2010||Space environment monitoring or ELINT||SSO||585.9 km × 600.1 km||97.8°||37180||2010-051B||TSLC||Long March 4B||Operational|
|Shijian 6-04B||6 October 2010||Space environment monitoring or ELINT||SSO||570.6 km × 606.8 km||97.8°||37179||2010-051A||TSLC||Long March 4B||Operational|
|Shijian 6-05A||10 December 2021||Space environment monitoring or ELINT||SSO||467.5 km × 475.4 km||97.3°||49961||2021-122A||JSLC||Long March 4B||Operational|
|Shijian 6-05B||10 December 2021||Space environment monitoring or ELINT||SSO||467.5 km × 475.4 km||93.9°||49962||2021-122B||JSLC||Long March 4B||Operational|
|Shijian 7||5 July 2005||Unknown||SSO||557.4 km × 605.5 km||97.7°||28737||2005-024A||JSLC||Long March 2D||Operational|
|Shijian 8||9 September 2006||Space agricultural experiments||LEO||177 km × 445 km||63.0°||29385||2006-035A||JSLC||Long March 2C||Decayed|
|Shijian 9A||14 October 2012||Optical imaging, environmental monitoring||SSO||622 km × 647 km||98.0°||38860||2012-056A||TSLC||Long March 2C||Operational|
|Shijian 9B||14 October 2012||Optical imaging, environmental monitoring, LWIR||SSO||623 km × 649 km||97.99°||38861||2012-056B||TSLC||Long March 2C||Operational|
|Shijian 10||5 April 2016||Retrievable microgravity experiments||LEO||234 km × 268 km||42.89°||41448||2016-023A||JSLC||Long March 2D||Decayed|
|Shijian 11-01||12 November 2009||Launch warning, IR tracking||SSO||689.7 km × 708.1 km||97.9°||36088||2009-061A||JSLC||Long March 2C||Operational|
|Shijian 11-02||29 July 2011||Launch warning, IR tracking||SSO||678.5 km × 701.3 km||98.4°||37765||2011-039A||JSLC||Long March 2C||Operational|
|Shijian 11-03||6 July 2011||Launch warning, IR tracking||SSO||689.8 km × 704.1 km||97.8°||37730||2011-030A||JSLC||Long March 2C||Operational|
|Shijian 11-04||18 August 2011||Launch warning, IR tracking||(Launch Failure)||JSLC||Long March 2C||Payload lost in rocket failure|
|Shijian 11-05||15 July 2013||Launch warning, IR tracking||SSO||689.4 km × 703.3 km||98.2°||39202||2013-035A||JSLC||Long March 2C||Operational|
|Shijian 11-06||31 March 2014||Launch warning, IR tracking||SSO||692.3 km × 713.6 km||98.1°||39624||2014-014A||JSLC||Long March 2C||Operational|
|Shijian 11-07||28 September 2014||Launch warning, IR tracking||SSO||690.6 km × 706.3 km||98.1°||40261||2014-059A||JSLC||Long March 2C||Operational|
|Shijian 11-08||27 October 2014||Launch warning, IR tracking||SSO||685.0 km × 701.7 km||98.2°||40286||2014-066A||JSLC||Long March 2C||Operational|
|Shijian 12||15 June 2010||Scientific research||SSO||575 km × 599 km||97.68°||36596||2010-027A||JSLC||Long March 2D||Operational|
|Shijian 13||12 April 2017||High-throughput communications||GEO||35,765.3 km × 35,823.8 km||0.1°||42662||2017-018A||XSLC||Long March 3B||Operational|
|Shijian 15||19 July 2013||Unknown payload deployment||SSO||670.6 km × 678.4 km||98.0°||39210||2013-037C||TSLC||Long March 4C||Operational|
|Shijian 16-01||25 October 2013||Space environment monitoring or SIGINT||LEO||599 km × 616 km||74.98°||39358||2013-057A||JSLC||Long March 4B||Operational|
|Shijian 16-02||29 June 2016||Space environment monitoring or SIGINT||LEO||596 km × 616 km||75.00°||41634||2016-043A||JSLC||Long March 4B||Operational|
|Shijian 17||3 November 2016||Communications and debris inspection or counterspace||GEO||35,827.1 km × 35,835.4 km||2.2°||41838||2016-065A||WSLC||Long March 5||Operational|
|Shijian 18||2 July 2017||Test of new DFH-5 platform, telecom||(Launch Failure)||WSLC||Long March 5||Payload lost in rocket failure|
|Shijian 19||TBA||Returnable microgravity experiments||Planned: not yet launched||JSLC||Long March 2D||Planned|
|Shijian 20||27 December 2019||Test of new DFH-5 platform, experimental quantum telecom||GEO||35,774.9 km × 35,814.1 km||1.347°||44910||2019-097A||WSLC||Long March 5||Operational|
|Shijian 21||24 October 2021||Debris clean-up or counterspace||GEO||36,217.7 km × 36,217.7 km||8.580°||49330||2021-094A||XSLC||Long March 3B||Operational|
|Shijian 21 (subsat)||24 October 2021||Unknown||49382||2021-094C||XSLC||Long March 3B||Operational|
|Shijian 23||8 January 2023||Classified||GEO||35,769.1 km × 35,816.8 km||0.6°||55131||2023-002A||WSLC||Long March 7A||Operational|
|Shijian 23 (subsat)||8 January 2023||Unknown||55131||2023-002A||WSLC||Long March 7A||Operational|
|Sources: NORAD, NASA, USSPACECOM, Celestrak, Gunter's Space Page|