Recent federal budget cuts have reduced funding for the U.S. space program, NASA.In the midst of NASA’s descent, China has been building a robust space program. The China National Space Administration was formed in 1993 in Beijing under the control of the Ministry of Aerospace Industry (2). In the last decade, the program has expanded 10% annually and has proposed substantial goals for the future (1). On October 16, 2016, China will launch their sixth crewed mission. Chinese astronauts will board the Shenzhou-11 for a 30-day exploration to map out plans for China’s new space station (3). The rise of the Chinese space program is noticeably threatening the dominance of the United States aerospace industry, and raising serious national security concerns for the U.S.
China’s National Space Administration has built its program with cost efficiency in mind, providing exceptional results at low costs. It is estimated that China spends 2 billion dollars annually on its space program, while NASA’s progress is declining even with an 18 billion dollar budget (1). China’s economically efficient rise to power is attributable to their ability to acquire and improve upon preexisting technologies. China’s relationship with Russia has allowed them to purchase rockets, which China has reverse engineered and upgraded. This process has allowed the Chinese Space Administration to skip many years of development and focus its work on creating the most cutting edge technologies. China’s innovative Long March rocket, for example, has now surpassed Russia’s rocket capabilities. A key component to the Chinese Space Administration’s success are the young and well-trained engineers that China has assembled who drive this remarkable innovation.
The engineers of China’s space program appear predominantly focused on lunar exploration, a field of exploration that has been ignored by NASA for years as it has focused its attention on Mars instead (1). China’s launch of its Jade Rabbit in 2013 was the first landing of anything human-built on the moon in close to 40 years (1). This focus on lunar exploration, coupled with the Chinese Space Administration’s ties to Russia, are concerning to U.S. national security. According to a recent U.S. Department of Defense report, it is possible that China might be developing anti-satellite weapons to damage U.S. navigational satellites. Referring to a possible plot to undermine U.S. dominance in space, expert Paul Spudis notes, "All of that activity is classic space control. If you combine these activities with their anti-satellite warfare experience, it's pretty clear what they are up to. I think that's their real agenda (1).” Given the Chinese National Space Administration’s close relationship with the Chinese military, U.S. officials are becoming increasingly concerned that Spudis’ speculations will become a reality. In response to these mounting concerns, the U.S. has gone so far as to ban China from the International Space Station. Furthermore, NASA has imposed stringent restrictions preventing their employees from collaborating with China or letting Chinese Space Administration affiliates into U.S. facilities. It is rumored that China is looking to collaborate with Russia on their new space station, the Tiangong 2, which could be in orbit within the next two years. Estimated to become a fully functional lab by 2022, the 60-ton station may also feature a Hubble-style telescope. Within that timeframe, the U.S. Space Station will become obsolete and be removed from orbit, with no replacement planned at this time (1).
Similar to the American business SpaceX, a private space company is also underway in China. Known as Expace, the firm has already committed itself to ten solid fuel rocket launches in the near future. Expace’s director is also the chair of China’s Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, which is responsible for China’s missile defense system and anti-satellite weapons development programs. In February of 2016, China’s leading commercial space launch company was awarded 1.5 billion dollars from the Kuang Chi Group (4). The Kuang Chi group also funds a $1.5 billion dual purpose balloon called the “Cloud”. The Cloud will not only be capable of taking space tourists to the exo-atmosphere, but will also serve as a backup for China’s missile defense and satellite systems (4). In light of all these developments, China is on track to becoming a dominate player in the private as well as public space industries. In the decades to come, China’s government and private ventures—featuring relatively inexpensive leading edge rockets—may become leading global suppliers of space launch technology, leaving the U.S. with a lot of catching up to do.
(1) Dickerson, Kelly. "China's Space Program Is Growing Extremely Fast." Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 16 June 2015. Web. 17 Oct. 2016. <http://www.businessinsider.com/how-big-is-chinas-space-program-2015-6>.
(2) "China National Space Administration." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_National_Space_Administration>.
(3) Jones, Andrew. "China to Launch Shenzhou-11 Crewed Mission Late on Sunday." Gbtimes.com. N.p., 12 Oct. 2016. Web. 17 Oct. 2016. <http://gbtimes.com/china/china-launch-shenzhou-11-crewed-mission-late-sunday>.
(4)Lin, Jeffrey, and Peter W. Singer. "China's Private Space Industry Prepares To Compete With Spacex And Blue Origin." Popular Science. N.p., 7 Oct. 2016. Web. 17 Oct. 2016. <http://www.popsci.com/chinas-private-space-industry-booms-prepares-to-compete-with-spacex-and-blue-origin>.
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