The Space Race – Reignited In China?
On January 2, China became the third country to land on the moon and the first to land on the far side, surprising many in the scientific community. While making it to the far side of the moon – more popularly known as the “dark side” thanks to Pink Floyd – is an impressive feat, this space milestone is a signal of China’s expanding aerospace investment and the beginning of a new “Space Race.”
Chinese Space Investment
In 2016 China’s president, Xi Jinping, dedicated $8 billion worth of the national space budget to the “space dream,” opening private investment opportunities within the space industry hoping to tap into the nearly $400 billion in revenues the aerospace industry takes in. So far this year, China has already invested $217 million in private space companies, virtually matching all of last year’s investment. In the last three years, China has improved its position significantly within the industry. In that time, China has grown from holding nearly no position within the industry to holding 3 percent of the market.
Eighty commercial space start-ups now operate in China, most of which focus on satellites and satellite technology. The largest companies, however, are working on rocket and launch technology. For example, LandSpace, the first Chinese private aerospace company, has developed China’s most technologically advanced rockets and is currently developing a liquid engine similar to those being developed by SpaceX and Blue Origin. Another company, One Space, became the first private company to launch a rocket into orbit last year.
To some, Space may seem like an odd investment to be betting on, but it’s important to remember that investment in space companies is more than just a financial investment for countries like China.
First, there is a political and military demand that is rooted in competition, especially with the United States. With the U.S government spending more than any other country on their space budget, other countries are looking to compete with their U.S. counterparts to maintain military power. This is especially important given the new U.S. focus on the so-called “Space-Force.”
Additionally, the aerospace industry is one of the fastest growing industries, in terms of investment, right now. Any new technology or untapped resources has the potential to bring a lot of money to whoever discovers them first. China and Chinese companies are looking to be the first to develop new, innovative, technology and resources that could drive the industry into the future, thereby making China an industry leader.
As with the Belt and Road Initiative, China is looking to, essentially, show off its power and strength. Through becoming an industry leader and driver within the aerospace industry, China will be able to prove that it is a “force to be reckoned with.”
China’s Space Future
China and its private companies have ambitious plans for the country’s future in space. Many of the country’s future plans match those of the United States, including building a new space station, building a base on the Moon, and conducting missions to Mars. China is currently on track to launch its first mission to Mars next year and also looking to launch a satellite navigation system, like GPS, next year. China is also looking to build a solar power station in space. The station would operate similarly to the International Space Station and would turn solar rays into energy that can be beamed back to Earth. If successful, the station would provide a constant supply of electricity to China.
Given China’s impressive rise within the industry and their lofty goals, should the United States be worried about a new “Space Race” with China? Not yet.
While China has had some impressive growth, the U.S. is growing at about the same rate as China with far more investment and competition. The U.S. has a much longer and successful history in space than China does, and China’s successes at this point aren’t major contributions to the industry. Landing on the far side of the Moon is impressive, but not necessarily important to space exploration.
A new “Space Race” hasn’t fully reignited, but China has the potential to grow within the industry drastically over the next few years, especially given how close they are to achieving many of their lofty goals. When that happens, count on China becoming extraordinarily competitive within the industry, but don’t count on them surpassing the U.S.