29 November 2013

China’s Space Program Is Taking Off

Frank Morring, Jr., Bradley Perrett, and Amy Svitak, China’s Space Program Is Taking Off,” Aviation Week & Space Technology, 25 November 2013, 50.

… by 2020 or a little thereafter, when the International Space Station (ISS) may be on its last legs, Chinese space managers expect to have a Mir-class space station in orbit. There is a fair chance that Europe and at least one of the original spacefaring nations, Russia, will have contributed to its construction. …

… the U.S. Air Force Space Command uneasily monitors a constellation of three maneuvering Chinese satellites launched July 19 with no fanfare, trying to determine their military utility.

… China’s leaders live in a secure compound near the ancient Forbidden City in Beijing…. Understanding their motivation for actions like the ASAT test, which came as Chinese diplomats prepared for an international meeting in Vienna on space debris mitigation, can be as tricky as Cold War Kremlinology. But China-watching is an old academic discipline in the West, and its practitioners have a pretty clear idea of what is behind China’s space activities.

“The top government leaders, decision-makers, people who are in charge of the various space programs at various levels, see space as an area of disproportionately important investment,” says Andrew Erickson, a China specialist at the U.S. Naval War College and Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. “There’s been a widespread consensus in China, pretty much since the founding of the People’s Republic of China and the early Mao years—but now I think much more realistic and grounded in resources and sustainable program development—that to be the sort of independent, great power with comprehensive national capabilities that China wants to be and increasingly is, China needs robust space capabilities across the board.” …