China plans to become a “space superpower” and potentially surpass the U.S. by 2020, according to a report by Popular Science.
China aims to land a solar-powered rover on Mars in 2020, and to become the first country to send an object to the dark side of the moon that same year. The country’s annual space budget is less than the U.S.’s, but most of NASA’s cash is spent on environmental issues and other fields not directly related to space exploration.
“After years of investment and strategy, China is well on its way to becoming a space superpower—and maybe even a dominant one,” reports Popular Science.
“The Chang’e 4 lunar mission is just one example of its scope and ambition for turning space into an important civilian and military domain,” the outlet reported. “Now, satellites guide Chinese aircraft, missiles, and drones, while watching over crop yields and foreign military bases. The growing number of missions involving Chinese rockets and taikonauts [astronauts] are a source of immense national pride.”
China staged a spacewalk, landed a rover on the Moon, increased its cooperation in space with Europe, and launched a demo space station all since its first manned space launch in 2003. The country launched a total of five crewed flights since 2003 and launched its second space station into orbit earlier this month.
China, for example, successfully targeted and destroyed one of its own satellites in orbit in 2007, and has likely tested a ground-based missile launch system to destroy objects in orbit in 2013.
A report published in August by the U.S. National Academies found that the Department of Defense “urgently needs” new policies to defend U.S. satellites, since both Russia and China are developing space weapons capable of knocking out U.S. satellites in any future conflict, giving them a potentially catastrophic edge in war.
“Despite world interest in avoiding militarization of space, potential adversaries have identified the use of space as an advantage for U.S. military forces, and are actively fielding systems to deny our use of space in a conflict,” Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, wrote in a white paper published in July. “Securing our right to use space is simply an extension of an age old principle to guarantee use of global commons.”
China’s space program, however, still faces serious problems.
The Chinese lunar rover had numerous mechanical problems and was ultimately abandoned. China’s first attempt to send a satellite into Mars orbit in 2011 failed when the rocket carrying it blew up before even reaching Earth’s orbit.
The Obama administration has made some efforts to boost U.S. presence in space, but the White House has directed more funding towards global warming research and less towards space exploration.
NASA only plans one mission to match the Chinese on Mars in 2020 by sending a $2.1 billion dollar nuclear isotope-powered rover to The Red Planet.
But astronauts still rely on the Russians to reach space and are being forced to delay its Mars mission until 2030.
Attempts to return U.S. astronauts to orbit aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are now in the hands of private companies. Elon Musk’s company SpaceX is racing Boeing to be the first private company to send humans to the ISS, so that NASA can focus on expanding access to space.
The White House twice stymied programs initiated during the Bush administration designed to take humans to Mars by leaking information to the press about them and threatening to veto the projects. Obama repeatedly tries to slash space exploration funding and redirect it to Earth science programs — which just so happen to include climate modeling initiatives designed to measure global warming. Obama increased NASA’s budget for these environmental programs, especially those that study global warming, by 63 percent.
Obama delays and funding cuts have allowed China to close the gap with NASA in space, and yet, Chinese plans to send a rover and a human to Mars are still technologically inferior to NASA.
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