China’s recent crew handover for its space station, Tiangong, marked an important milestone for the country’s space program. Tiangong is expected to become the world’s primary space station after the International Space Station is decommissioned in 2030. This development raises concerns about the future dominance of China in space exploration. Under NASA’s commercial low-earth-orbit destinations program, the US and its partners may only operate commercial platforms.
China’s space achievements demonstrate its increasing capabilities. The country launched 41 satellites simultaneously, moving closer to SpaceX’s record of 143 satellites. China has also surpassed the US in military launches, with 45 defense-related satellites sent into orbit in 2022.
The global recognition of space’s economic and strategic potential has led to a tenfold increase in the number of payloads launched into orbit in the past decade. The global space economy is estimated to be worth $469 billion, with revenue increasing by 6.4% in 2022.
Space plays a vital role in various aspects of modern life. Advancements in space technologies have contributed to a better understanding of human health, improved communication, and the development of systems like the Global Positioning System (GPS). The military relies on satellites for multiple purposes, including weather forecasting, surveillance, intelligence, and communication.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) acknowledges the significance of space power in potential future conflicts. Their military strategy document states that events in space are inseparable from the outcome of warfare. Both China and the US recognize the contest for space dominance and the importance of securing superiority.
China’s rapid space growth includes the development of the BeiDou satellite system, seen as a potential rival to GPS. China’s anti-satellite test in 2007 revealed their counterspace capabilities and efforts to militarize space.
China’s space activities are aimed at advancing its global standing, eroding US influence, and strengthening its military, technological, economic, and diplomatic spheres, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The US Air Force has expressed concerns about China’s ability to use its satellites to collect intelligence and potentially invade privacy.
China’s space ambitions align with its socialist modernization strategy and military-civil fusion approach. Anti-access and area-denial techniques, exemplified in China’s actions against Taiwan, further demonstrate their intentions.
It is crucial for governments and societies to monitor China’s progress in space and treat it seriously. China’s rapid expansion in space capabilities threatens international peace and security. It is necessary to recognize the immense advantages that space capabilities offer and take steps to protect this domain from falling into the wrong hands.