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Soupjoe5 OP t1_iye8z7f wrote


Earlier this year, Beijing released a White Paper outlining its plans for space science, exploration, technology and propulsion over the coming five years, while stating that the country’s space industry “serves the overall national strategy.”

The paper lays out a broad array of priorities for spaceflight, including upgrading and expanding launch vehicles, building out satellite constellations, operating the Tiangong space station and planning crewed lunar landings, as well as exploring the moon, Mars and beyond.

Independent scholar and author Namrata Goswami said that the thrust of China's space program is to accomplish resource utilization, including asteroid mining, lunar resource extraction, nuclear fusion and reusable rockets, while establishing a strategic presence on the Earth Moon Lagrange points, or positions in space where gravity and centrifugal force balance each other.

“China's space program has shifted the narrative of space from Cold War, Western-led concepts like 'space is all about prestige' to demonstrating that space is about the economic benefits it brings,” said Goswami.

Beijing has announced several ambitious plans for the coming years, including collecting near-Earth asteroid samples and conducting two lunar polar exploration missions by 2025. It also plans to launch a Mars sample-return mission, send an unmanned probe to Jupiter and land astronauts on the moon by 2030.

The country also wants to develop reusable carrier rockets by 2035 before establishing an initially robotic — and later intermittently crewed — research base on the moon by 2036 and one on Mars by 2045, the latter of which could benefit from China’s plans to build a nuclear-powered space shuttle by 2040.

“China is building a ‘Silk Road to Space’ and I have no doubt that they are capable of doing this,” said Head at Brown University.

But where does the Tiangong space station fit into these plans?

Although only about 20% the mass of the ISS, experts say the Tiangong will not only be used as a platform for space science experiments but also as a tool for soft power, prestige and potentially a means of attracting partners for space cooperation.

“The completion of the station demonstrates that China is a space power with the technical advancements, operational proficiency and resource commitment to sustain a long-term human presence in space,” said Bingen, adding that the breakthrough comes amid uncertainty about the future of the ISS.

Moreover, the Tiangong will enable China to build an entire low-Earth orbit logistical system, including cargo transfers vital for life support away from Earth.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_iye92ah wrote


“Some of the most critical technologies for a space program involve the ability to dock and rendezvous autonomously, accomplish maneuvers and in-space assembly,” said Goswami, all of which China aims to continue testing and improving.

But perhaps more importantly, permanent occupancy implies that China will build on its strategic goal of dominating the space between Earth and the moon, while training and equipping people to live in space. This will offer strategic insights into space biology, space weather and the long-term effects of long stays on the human body.

Last but not least, a sustained presence in space will also allow Chinese officials to prepare for landing astronauts on the moon and compete with NASA’s Artemis program.

So why the security concerns?

Although Beijing insists that it plans to use space for peaceful purposes and scientific achievements, the emergence of an undemocratic and autocratic China as a space power is seen as a potential security risk to other countries, particularly given the dual-use nature of the space technologies being developed, the PLA’s prominence in the domestic space industry and Beijing’s lack of transparency.

Compounding these concerns, said CSIS’s Bingen, are national intelligence laws that compel civil and commercial enterprises to support intelligence-gathering efforts and China’s ruling Communist Party’s “civil-military” fusion strategy, which blurs any line between military and civilian space programs.

“While Beijing pursues these exploration programs it is also building out a vast array of ground- and space-based anti-satellite weapons, including missiles like the one tested in 2007 that created dangerous orbital debris that will remain in orbit and threaten both our space stations and other satellites for decades to come.”

These concerns were confirmed by the U.S. intelligence community in the latest threat assessment report.

“Counterspace operations will be integral to potential military campaigns by the PLA, and China has counterspace weapons capabilities intended to target U.S. and allied satellites,” it said, warning that the Chinese military is also integrating space services — such as satellite reconnaissance and communications — into its weapons and command-and-control systems to erode the U.S. military’s information advantage.