China calls them scavengers, Russia calls them inspectors and the US calls them threats.
The race is about eliminating the space junk that circles overhead. But the fears are that these garbage collectors are really murderous "Gremlins".
Known as space debris drones, they also have the potential to grab vital GPS, communications, and surveillance satellites and hurl them to the ground.  And weird things are already happening in orbit.
Analysts ask: Is it space debris or sabotage?
CONNECTED: China plans to launch a moon-like satellite by 2020
CONTEXT: Russia is accused of testing a "killer satellite" in orbit.
Several critical satellites in geostationary orbit have reported anomalies. Most recently, Intelsat 29e ̵
No one proposes sabotage yet. Space debris remains the prime suspect.
However, since the satellite was only three years old and had five more serious disruptions over the last two years, the incident made the analysts talk.
Is space debris already available? to get out of control? Or is something more sinister in the game?
According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), attacks on satellites have already taken place.
Moscow fears this last year The development of a secret satellite pilot was renewed when what was originally considered a piece of space debris left over after a rocket launch began to behave abnormally ,
It changed course and speed on its own. Just a few days after US Vice President Mike Pence officially announced plans to create a new space force.
Why should it do that? Why the secrecy? Was it some kind of message?
Now, Beijing has released tantalizing details of an artificial intelligence-controlled space cleanup project.
The so-called cleanup program was certified in state-controlled media by Luo Jianjun, deputy director of the National Laboratory of Spaceflight Dynamics Technology at Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xian.
"We would rather not talk about it publicly," he said.
But he talked about that.
Regarding the uncontrolled crash of the experimental Tiangong-1 space station last year, Luo said the use of newly developed technologies could make such vehicles safe in the future Earth Atmosphere Burning
According to the South China Morning Post the project was still experimental and there was no large-scale deployment of such orbital robots.
The project involved small satellite ome weighing less than 10 kg – with robotic arms and small engines. Their sensors and engines allow them to approach an object within 20 cm before reaching for it.
This could be a dropped missile shell. An old satellite with a dead energy source. Or a fully functional military or commercial device.
Once it is appropriate, the scavenger can begin to push it into the Earth's atmosphere – and a fiery fate.
"Most details remain secret because of the potential military applications of the technology. "Mr. Luo states.
The Morning Post also cited a recently released Communist Party document stating that the concept of orbital drones was under development since 2008.
"The project has not only been in development more than 10 satellite models found application … but also in drones, smart weapons and robots, "says the 2019 space threat assessment document that a Chinese experimental satellite called the SJ-17 in 2017 and 2018 several times a Chinese Communication satellites circled.
Any military target could resemble R's ussia.
The small robotic devices hide between space debris – or are even attached to a larger object. Here they remain switched off until they are awakened by a coded call.
This is because every rocket launch is carefully watched by competing governments and companies. Whatever is in orbit will be closely tracked and recorded – not least to determine if it could hit a high-quality target like the International Space Station.
But only the most sensitive and comprehensive systems for tracking space debris would be capable of detecting the strange appearance or displacement of such a small object.
These gripper-equipped gremlins can then approach a satellite of interest, photograph and scan its makeup, or even intercept its signals. They can also tear off the surface, damage sensitive equipment, and disable the satellite.
Or they could grab a dead satellite and get the garbage out of orbit.
In March last year, India launched a missile that successfully destroyed an already orbiting satellite. This is only the fourth nation.
But there was a fallout: a big cloud of metallic debris thrown across space.
Some parts have a diameter of only millimeters. Another ten centimeters. Anyone can rip holes in fuel tanks, depressurize a spacecraft, or smash another satellite, causing another cloud of debris to break out.
It joins a hail of 3000 high-speed fragments that are all being tracked China conducted a similar Kinetic Kill test in 2007. It is estimated that there are more than 600,000 parts in total at the top.
There is a danger that such debris will trigger a chain reaction that has gone out of control.
This is called Kessler syndrome, according to the researcher who first predicted it.
And some scientists warn that access to the elevated railway could soon be closed within just 20 years.
"When the useful lanes around the earth become full of garbage, and our satellites can not work safely, it will have serious consequences," warns the Australian Academy of Sciences.
And space agencies around the world, including Australia, are looking for ways to alleviate the problem. Some, such as the space networks tested by the United Kingdom and the repair robots proposed by the United States, could also be construed as weapons.
& # 39; SOFT & # 39; OPTIONS
There is no point in winning an orbital war if no one could ever leave Earth's surface for several thousand years.
Therefore, the military of such nations as China, Russia and the United States are looking for less destructive ways to control space – including Gremlin satellites.  The military is looking for other options, such as Russia's recent controversial disruption of GPS satellites deployed via Norway and Sweden.
And then there is laser. Although they are not yet capable of shooting an object out of space, they can damage or dazzle the sensors they carry.
MIT Technology Review . "It's more gray-zone aggression, pushing the boundaries of accepted behavior and challenging norms, staying below the threshold of conflict."
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer. Continue Talk | @JamieSeidel