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#SpaceWatchGL Opinion: China’s Space Dream

by Jose Salgado

An artist’s rendering of the to-be-launched Chinese Space Station. If all goes according to plan, an NTNU based research project will be conducted aboard the space station as early as 2022. Rendering: China Manned Space Agency

China strived to maintain positive economic growth despite the global pandemic. According to the IMF, China’s GDP growth rate was 1.9% in 2020, making it the only country among major economies to have growth above zero in that year.

Now Beijing is ready for the “space dream”, according to the 2019 Annual Report to Congress, prepared by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which dedicated a whole chapter to China’s ambitions in space.

“China views space as critical to its future security and economic interests due to its vast strategic and economic potential. Moreover, Beijing has specific plans not merely to explore space, but to industrially dominate the space within the moon’s orbit of Earth. China has invested significant resources in exploring the national security and economic value of this area, including its potential for space-based manufacturing, resource extraction, and power generation, although experts differ on the feasibility of some of these activities.”, the report mentions.

In response to this, Washington issued a memorandum in December 2020, aiming to use space nuclear power and propulsion (SNPP) systems safely, securely, and sustainably to maintain and advance the United States dominance and strategic leadership in space. The strategy includes developing uranium fuel processing capabilities and demonstrating a fission power system on the surface of the Moon that is scalable to a power range of 40 kilowatts to support a sustained lunar presence and Mars exploration.

“China is taking steps to establish a commanding position in the commercial launch and satellite sectors relying in part on aggressive state-backed financing that foreign market-driven companies cannot match. China has already succeeded in undercutting some U.S. and other foreign launch and satellite providers in the international market, threatening to hollow out these countries’ space industrial bases”, the report adds.

According to Euroconsult, the U.S. continues to be the world’s largest investor in space with $48 billion, representing 58% of the world’s total investment, followed by China with $8 billion, France $4 billion, Russia $3.6 billion, and Japan $3 billion.

China’s Space Dream, a core component of China’s aim to rejuvenate the nation, is already creating tensions in the global landscape. For example, further to the signature of a memorandum of understanding between Italy and China in 2018 to build part of the Tiangong-3 space station, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported in early 2020 that the agreement fell through due to high-level political pressure from the US government.

Notwithstanding the geopolitical implications of China’s space endeavours and the technology transfer concerns, as the commercialization of space continues to grow, the participation of China in the global space economy will be crucial to reduce access to space costs, build more solutions and create new markets.

About Jose Salgado:
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Jose Salgado; Picture courtesy of the author

Is a space industry advisor and founder of D-Construct Space Consulting. LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/josealfonsosalgado/

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