воскресенье, 6 января 2019 г.

China, the celestial rival of the United States

China Space Race.

Jan. 6, 2019

China is the country that sends the most rockets into orbit. But commercially, it does not shade SpaceX and the USA.

During the Cold War, the United States had its eyes focused on rockets and satellites of the USSR. In recent years, it is the space activities of China that preoccupy US strategists.

China, whose space program is run by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), today sends more rockets into orbit than any other country – 39 last year, compared to 31 US, 20 Russian and … 8 by Europe.

The last launch of 2018 by a Long March 2D rocket on December 30. Image Credit: CASC

She just landed a vehicle on the hidden side of the Moon (a historic first), will build a station in Earth orbit in the 2020s, and wants a “taikonaut” to walk on the moon in the next decade – he would be the first Man since 1972. No Russian went there.

The country spends more than Russia and Japan on its civilian and military space programs. China’s opaque budget was estimated at $ 8.4 billion in 2017 by the OECD. This is far behind the 48 billion civilians and military spent by the United States, said analyst Phil Smith, Bryce Tech firm. But much more than the budget of the Russian civilian program, slashed to three billion dollars.

Methodically, the Chinese leaders have responded, with a few decades of lag, the stages of the development of major nations: first satellite in 1970, first Chinese in space in 2003, first mooring an inhabited ship to a module in orbit in 2012, activation of a Chinese competitor to the GPS, the Beidou system …

BeiDou Navigation Satellites Constellation. Image Credit: Beidou

“If they continue on this trajectory, they will quickly eclipse Russia in terms of space technologies,” says Todd Harrison, an expert on space military issues at the CSIS think tank in Washington.

– Lunar resources –

Commercially, Chinese rockets do not threaten the satellite launch market, dominated by SpaceX in the United States. They almost exclusively launch Chinese government satellites.

For space exploration, Chinese progress also does not overshadow US projects. The boss of NASA congratulated the Chinese for the mission Chang’e-4. An American law of 2011 de facto prevents any space cooperation with Beijing, but the US Congress remains free to lift the restriction.

 A render of the Chang’e-4 rover on the lunar surface. Image Credit: CNSA

The real rivalry concerns two areas: the short-term military, and the long-term the exploitation of space resources. The exploitation of minerals or water on the Moon or asteroids, especially to produce rocket fuels, remains a distant prospect, but American start-ups are already working on it. Who will settle a dispute between Chinese and Americans on a lunar ice vein?

Unlike the period of the Cold War, the new space conquest unfolds in a relative legal vacuum. In the 1960s and 1970s, Washington and Moscow had negotiated several space treaties, mainly to ensure scientific cooperation and to ban weapons of mass destruction in outer space.

“These treaties are too vague to legally apply to issues like the exploitation of mineral resources in outer space,” says Frans von der Dunk, a professor of space law at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

– Space war –

These treaties are mostly overtaken by new military technologies: anti-satellite lasers, cyberattacks, jamming transmissions, missiles fired from Earth to destroy a satellite, as China tested in 2007 and continues to do it blank.

China To Test Dong Neng-3 Anti-Satellite Missile. Image Credit: Indian Defense News

There is no equivalent of the laws of war for space. One satellite colliding with another, is this an “attack”? How to define the proportionality of a response? Should civilian satellites be protected from retaliation, but what about satellites for civil and military use? And how to respond to a cyber attack whose author is uncertain?

“The Chinese have done experiments to interfere in our communications,” says Jack Beard of the University of Nebraska’s Space Law Program. He recalls that civil satellites and NASA were attacked in 2007 and 2008 by pirates for several minutes.

Animation above: Satellite explosion in space produce a lot of uncontrolled and dangerous space debris. Animation Credit: Gify.

“The United States is vulnerable because it has fallen behind threats to our space systems,” says Todd Harrison. But the dialogue with Beijing is almost zero, unlike what existed with Moscow during the Cold War. “In case of a crisis in space with China, I am not sure that our army knows who to call,” says the expert.

But observers nuance the portrait of China as an aggressive opponent of America. “Some in the United States exaggerate China’s role as a major strategic rival to fund the space projects they support,” said Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation in Washington, while NASA is fighting to maintain its budget.

Main Launch Companies & Agencies:


Arianespace: http://www.arianespace.com/

Eurockot Launch Services: http://www.eurockot.com/


United Launch Alliance (ULA): https://www.ulalaunch.com/

SpaceX: https://www.spacex.com/


Energia: https://www.energia.ru/english/

ROSCOSMOS: http://en.roscosmos.ru/


China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC): http://english.spacechina.com/n16421/index.html

China National Space Administration (CNSA): http://www.cnsa.gov.cn/


Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO): https://www.isro.gov.in/


Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA): http://global.jaxa.jp/

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: AFP/Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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