Researchers from a space centre in China said they found a jamming device right outside their base just weeks before a scheduled rocket launch, according to local news outlets.
The device was found in a car being driven near the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in Gansu province about two weeks ago, Yangtze Evening News reported on Sunday.
The space centre didn’t say if the incident was an act of sabotage but noted that the jammer could interfere with navigation systems and make a rocket go off course, per the outlet.
China is set to send three astronauts to its Tiangong space station on Sunday via its Shenzhou-14 rocket. Among the crew is Liu Yang, who became China’s first woman to be sent into space in 2012.
According to Yangtze Evening News, scientists at the Jiuquan space centre started detecting “abnormal” interference signals earlier this month and spent several days tracking them down.
The discovered device was a small frequency transmitter with a typical maximum range of 32 feet, per The South China Morning Post. The outlet reported that such devices could be bought on e-commerce websites like “Taobao” — China’s robust version of Amazon.
Despite its size, the device could be used to disrupt a satellite’s signal, which is already weak because it’s beamed from altitudes of more than 12,000 feet above the Earth, a scientist from the centre told SCMP.
As of Tuesday morning, Beijing time, the Shenzhou-14 launch is still proceeding as planned, with the Jiuquan space centre’s facilities and equipment “in good condition,” Xinhua News reported.
If successful, the crewed mission will kick off the final construction phase of the Tiangong space station — China’s answer to the International Space Station (ISS). Chinese astronauts have been barred from the ISS since 2011 over US security concerns.
Tiangong, which means “Heavenly Palace,” comprises three modules that will be installed one by one. The first module has been in orbit since April 2021.