Sky-high aspirations for China’s space station . . .
Last week, China’s Shenzhou-13 spacecraft landed back on Chinese soil after completing a 183-day mission, which included spacewalks and docking at China’s Tiangong space station. The mission marked the longest continuous orbit of taikonauts (astronauts from China) and the conclusion of the first technological verification stage of Tiangong's long-term construction. To complete Tiangong's assembly in 2022, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) has confirmed more than 60 further space launches this year. Tiangong will be the only active space station when the International Space Station is retired in 2031. Beijing reiterated it will welcome foreign astronauts to Tiangong by affirming the space station is open to all UN member states.
More plans revealed on National Space Day . . .
China celebrated its National Space Day on April 24, marking the anniversary of the country’s launch of its first satellite, Dongfanghong-1, in 1970. In an interview with state broadcaster CCTV, CNSA’s Vice-Administrator Wu Yanhua unveiled the country’s space exploration plan, which includes launching the fourth phase of China’s lunar exploration missions to build the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) in the coming decade. The ILRS will be a research facility based on the moon and is a joint undertaking with Russian state-owned company Roscosmos. Wu Yanhua also indicated the CNSA will soon start developing a defence system aimed at protecting Earth from asteroids, hoping to conduct a test of the technology in 2025 or 2026.
Navigating the new space rivalry . . .
Space is becoming an increasingly contentious venue for great power competition, with China, India, and the European Union seeking to extend their space capabilities to catch up with or even surpass the U.S. and Russia. Prior to China’s asteroid announcement, NASA set up an asteroid monitoring system and launched the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) program with the European Space Agency, with plans to run asteroid deflection tests this September. China’s co-operation with Russia on the ILRS is part of a five-year space co-operation program the two countries signed last year. Even though the ISS welcomes astronauts from all nationalities and China has pledged the same with its Tiangong space station, the separation of the superpowers into U.S./Europe and China/Russia blocs is a worrying trend that mirrors great power dynamics on Earth.