29 December 2011

Space Plan From China Broadens Challenge to U.S.

Edward Wong and Kenneth Chang, Space Plan From China Broadens Challenge to U.S.,” New York Times, 29 December 2011.

Broadening its challenge to the United States, the Chinese government on Thursday announced an ambitious five-year plan for space exploration that could establish China as a major rival at a time when the American program is in retreat. …

The plan shows how the government intends to draw on military and civilian resources to meet the goals, which the government is betting will also produce benefits for the Chinese economy. “This approach offers lessons for other advanced space powers, including the U.S., which needs to make sure it sustains its high-level investment in various aspects of space development across the board,” said Andrew S. Erickson, a professor at the United States Naval War College who has studied the Chinese space program. …

Analysts say one of the more notable goals of the five-year strategy is to further develop the Beidou Navigation Satellite System, which on Tuesday began providing navigation, positioning and timing data on China and surrounding areas. The white paper said China intended to have a global system by 2020, with 35 satellites in orbit. If it met that goal, China would join Russia in having a system that rivals America’s. China has already launched 10 satellites for the Beidou system, and plans to launch six more next year.

Beidou is not as advanced as its American counterpart, but it is expected to overshadow the Russian system and would provide the Chinese military with an alternative to relying on a civilian version of the American network. Beidou would also be used for civilian purposes, like providing drivers with a navigation tool.

“This has major commercial implications, it has major security implications,” Mr. Erickson said. “To be a great military and space power, it’s important to have one’s own satellite navigation system.”

The paper also said China planned to carry out a comprehensive plan for upgrading its satellite technology and widening the uses of its satellites.

“In aggregate, this is clearly going to propel China even further into space to a significant degree,” Mr. Erickson said. “There’s relentless progress across the board.” …