In an attempt to prevent a new space race with China, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced Wednesday that it is collaborating with the communist country on air traffic control.
NASA and the Chinese Aeronautical Establishment signed a collaborative agreement committing to five years of research-sharing on air traffic management.
“China is expected to see a substantial increase in air travel in the near future,” Charles Bolden, NASA’s administrator, said in a press statement. “Our ability to work closely together will help to improve predictability of ground delays so air carriers can better plan departures to increase efficiencies. That will have a positive impact on U.S. carriers operating in China and the global aviation community.”
Despite the small scope of the agreement, there’s wide bipartisan agreement in Congress and among experts that China is attempting to challenge America’s dominance in space.
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 that of the U.S., but most of NASA’s cash is spent on issues not directly related to space exploration.
Meanwhile, Beijing is pouring billions into ambitious scientific projects and also possesses the advantage of a military-backed space program.
“After years of investment and strategy, China is well on its way to becoming a space superpower—and maybe even a dominant one,” reported Popular Science earlier this month. “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 has already 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.
China is heavily involved in militarizing space as well. The communist country successfully targeted and destroyed one of its own satellites in orbit in 2007, and is likely testing a ground-based missile launch system to destroy objects in orbit in 2013.
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, a report published in August by the U.S. National Academies found.
Chinese plans in space face serious problems, in spite of concerns. 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.
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