Inmarsat’s I-5 F1 satellite was launched into space from Baikonur in Kazakhstan on Sunday. (Reuters)
Anti-satellite weapons could disable or destroy satellitesReuters

China is planning to increase its military capabilities in space in reaction to US and other world powers developing astronomical weapons.

According to the Xinhua news agency, China's president Xi Jinping has told the military to increase its space defence capabilities.

He said officers should "speed up air and space integration and sharpen their offensive and defensive capabilities".

China Daily also noted the country was planning to increase its military presence in space: "The idea of combining air and space capability is not new to the Chinese air force, as a host of experts have underscored the importance of space."

Xi told officers to focus on training that increases combat capabilities, adding they must make sure they can "swiftly and effectively" deal with emergencies. He told them to allocate more resources to a "new-type" of combat force.

What countries are developing anti-satellite weapons?

Countries believed to be working on anti-satellite technology include the US, Russia, China, India and Israel.

While no details have been revealed on how China plans to increase its space defence programmes, previous evidence suggests it has been developing an anti-satellite weapon.

According to Reuters, satellite images published in March 2014 suggested a Chinese rocket launched in 2013 was to test an anti-satellite weapon, and was not a research mission as it had been billed as.

At the time, US Air Force space analyst Brian Weeden said: "If true, this would represent a significant development in China's anti-satellite [ASAT] capabilities.

"No other country has tested a direct ascent ASAT weapon system that has the potential to reach deep space satellites in medium earth orbit, highly elliptical orbit or geostationary orbit."

Wang Ya'nan, deputy editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine in Beijing, said the increased militarisation of space was a reaction to other world powers developing similar weapons.

"The United States has paid considerable attention and resources to the integration of capabilities in both air and space, and other powers have also moved progressively toward space militarisation," he told China daily. "Though China has stated that it sticks to the peaceful use of space, we must make sure that we have the ability to cope with others' operations in space."

What is an anti-satellite weapon and what could it do?

The US first began developing anti-satellite weapons in the 1950s but it currently has no official weapons created from this purpose.

Anti-satellite weapons are designed to disable or destroy the satellites of other countries for strategic military reasons.

Unsurprisingly, there are very few details about what anti-satellite weapons are currently in development or what their capabilities are. However, the US did successfully destroy a malfunctioning spy satellite in 2008 using a RIM0161 Standard Missile 3, an anti-ballistic missile with anti-satellite capabilities.