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China’s progress in space


Sameen Tariq

Is this a new space race? This is the question that is popping in everyone’s mind since China emerged as the new “space player”. The recent Chinese deployment of 3 astronauts to Tianhe has been declared a success.  The western media has consequently termed Chinese advancement in space as the beginning of a new space race similar to what happened in the 1960s during the cold war. The Russian turn from working along with NASA and the USA in space to signing a lunar deal with china has also speculated news about Russia siding with china against the USA in the space race.

China, definitely, over the years has emerged as a new key “Space” player.  China has been very clear with its space program and has made some commendable achievements. This is proved by China by achieving the status of the first-ever nation just in 2019 to send a rover on the darker or far side of the moon. Another mega project China is working on is the Chinese space station, since China is not allowed to set foot in the existing ISS, so it is building the Chinese space station, a station of its own. The dream of bringing Chinese space ambitions to reality took a step forward on 17th June when China was successful in sending 3 astronauts to the core module named Tianhe, on the Chinese space station, which is under construction in a low Earth orbit.  The three astronauts are subjected to spend the next three months in space. Tianhe is the first of the four modules that will join together to form the Chinese space station Tiangong which is scheduled to be completed in 2022.

The Chinese ambitions are clear China always wanted to be a part of international space to work and research for the development of mankind but was not allowed to enter ISS, the only international space station formed for nations and agencies to collaborate in better understanding of space. It was the USA’s legal policies that prohibited china from entering ISS. This ban, on the positive side, has forced China to build up an independent space station. Putting up a space station is not an easy job. It requires a lot of capital investment, technology, manpower, and time to make one. China however is putting in all, all by its own to make its name in the space. The Chinese opening up a space station isn’t a race or war derived instead a ‘need’ derived as the US and NASA didn’t allow China to research and work in ISS. The Chinese government has also made the stance clear that China is not racing with anyone in space. The space station was a Chinese need to explore the cosmos and work for the betterment of humankind. China is simply performing its commitment to the rest of humanity to explore the universe and improve everyone’s understanding of the solar system.

On the other hand, when analyzed, Russian involvement with China in the space sector adopts a realistic approach. Russia always wants to keep itself alive in the arena of space. The once rivals are now joining hands in the realization of their respective space ambitions. Russia the old player in the race has shifted sides to china. The emergence of private companies in the arena especially the successful rise of Elon Musk’s SpaceX was a wake-up call for Russia. Following the flawless manned launch by US corporation SpaceX, Russia has lost its long-held monopoly as the only country capable of ferrying humans to the International Space Station. In March, Russia and China signed a joint deal to build a base on the moon. Instead of continuing historical relations by returning to the moon with the US and the international space community, it has given a clear signal by creating an alliance with China for lunar exploration. Also, another factor for Russia to be on China’s side can be the threat of existence for ISS. ISS which has hosted many astronauts for more than 20 years, is suspected to have its funding run out in 2024.

While China admits to being late to the space station game, it claims its facility is innovative. It may also outlive the International Space Station; whose operational life is almost about to end. The Chinese space station will be open to all, reflecting the Chinese agenda of working for the benefit of all. The eventual completion of China’s permanent space sector will also act as an alternative to the current ISS as it is expected to end by 2024. Thus Chinese space station is not a threat, in fact, will be an alternative and opportunity for all. Jan Wörner, the director-general of the European Space Agency (ESA), has already indicated a strategic need for cooperation with China in space, particularly on its space station and missions to the moon and Mars, all due to uncertainty of ISS’s funding and life.

In a nutshell, the Chinese space program is on the right track as china was successful in sending a manned rocket to Tianhe. West might name It as a space race but critically analyzing it, Chinese escalation is emerging as an opportunity and the Tiangong space station as an alternative to ISS. Chinese technology and manpower without any doubt are the greatest in the world, which reflects in Chinese commendable efforts in putting up a space station on their own. The opening up of space stations will open new ways for china in space, and also an opportunity for Europe and Africa to collaborate and move ahead with China. It’s not a space race, as America claims, in fact, America should also find out ways to collaborate with China. If ISS ends the life of NASA is also be endangered. Thus collaboration with China hints at the possibility of a better future for both NASA and the USA.

The writer works at The Diplomatic Insight and Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies as a Research Intern

*Opinion expressed by the writers in the articles is their own and do not necessarily reflects the official position of TDI and IPDS 


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