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Australian Space Industry Warns of Chinese Satellite Surveillance

FILE - Sailors recover a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, U.S., Feb. 5, 2023.

Australia’s space industry is warning that China is increasing its satellite surveillance. The warning comes as Australia’s Defense Space Command says it is working on a plan to acquire so-called soft-kill technology to take out enemy satellites.

In February, the United States shot down a giant Chinese balloon that it said had been spying on key military sites across America. Beijing, however, insisted it was a civilian aircraft that had drifted off course.

The diplomatic row ignited a debate about surveillance and espionage between the two.

In Australia, experts believe the balloon incident has overshadowed concerns about surveillance from space.

James Brown, the head of the trade group the Space Industry Association of Australia, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Saturday that China has a vast space monitoring system.

“I think people just do not realize that every day we are being listened to and surveilled by Chinese satellites that are only 100 to 200 kilometers above our heads, and China is launching hundreds of them a year and we are seeing more and more of that activity," Brown said.

Australia’s year-old Defense Space Command is working on a plan to buy so-called soft-kill technology to destroy enemy satellites without creating dangerous debris. Instead of using missiles, Australia wants to develop its own electronic warfare capability to disrupt and disable satellites but the appropriate technology is not yet commercially available.

The command's head, Air Vice Marshal Cath Roberts, Friday gave an update on electronic warfare capabilities and the threats to Australian satellites. She told reporters that there was a need to have "nondestructive" capabilities to deter attacks or interfere with enemy satellites.

Roberts said the number of satellites in space had more than doubled to around 8,000.

China launched more satellites than the United States did last year.