China will pour billions of dollars into its space program in the hopes of ending American dominance in space.
China intends to invest $2.17 billion into its space program between 2026 and 2030, about three to four times more than the $695 million it spent from 2011 to 2016. The country’s annual space budget will be comparatively less than NASA., but the U.S. space agency is spending more on programs not directly related to space exploration.
Experts estimate that the full extent of Chinese spending on space research is probably much higher than its stated budget.
“We are at the beginning,” Wu Ji, director-general of China’s National Space Center, told Bloomberg. “But this is a great cause, and nothing should stop China from becoming a power in the space industry.”
China’s space program is experiencing demonstrable success. After its first manned mission in 2003, China staged a spacewalk, landed a rover on the Moon, increased space cooperation with European countries, and launched a test space station. The country launched a total of five crewed flights since 2003 and launched its second space station into orbit earlier this month.
China sees its space program as a potential way to develop new technology and accelerate economic growth, while potentially obtaining a military advantage. The country’s space program is led by its military, which successfully targeted and destroyed one of its own in-orbit satellites in 2007.
Experts suspect that President-elect Donald Trump’s space program will likely be focused on exploration with robotic probes and sending humans to Mars, using money diverted from global warming science programs implemented by outgoing President Barack Obama.
“NASA should be focused primarily on deep-space activities rather than Earth-centric work that is better handled by other agencies,” Robert S. Walker and Peter Navarro, both senior advisers to the Trump campaign wrote in an opinion piece published in SpaceNews. “Human exploration of our entire solar system by the end of this century should be NASA’s focus and goal.”
Trump could slash the more than $2 billion NASA spends on its Earth Science Mission Directorate, which covers global warming science like improved climate modeling and weather prediction. NASA’s other functions, such as astrophysics and space technology, are currently only getting a mere $781.5 and $826.7 million, respectively.
Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, pledged on Twitter in late October to head a reinstated National Space Council, which would dictate much of U.S. space policy and coordinate civil and military space agencies. The Council is traditionally headed by the sitting vice president. Obama promised to re-establish the organization before taking office, but never actually did it.
Experts previously blamed the agency’s problems on Obama and his re-tasking of NASA to focus on global warming. Obama repeatedly sought to slash space exploration funding and redirect it to Earth science programs, which include climate-modeling initiatives designed to measure global warming.
Obama increased NASA’s budget for environmental programs by 63 percent at the expense of its exploration budget.
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