Second front: China bypasses the US in a space race

How China takes number one space power from the US

China is determined to replace the United States as the dominant force in space. Declaring peaceful intentions, Beijing considers space to be a sphere of war and invests heavily in space infrastructure designed to provide both economic and military advantages. In the historically foreseeable future, the implementation of the PRC plans seems quite possible.

Beijing’s rapidly growing capabilities in outer space are obvious, according to Defense News. On May 5, China successfully launched a test version of a new type of Chinese spacecraft using the Long March-5B launch vehicle (Great March 5B, Changzheng 5B) from the Wenchang Cosmodrome (Hainan Province, South China). This was the first successful launch of a Long March missile this year after unsuccessful attempts to launch the Long March-3B in April and the Long March-7A in March.

The Changzheng-5B launch vehicle is an improved version of the Changzheng-5, the first Chinese heavy-class space rocket (maximum carrying capacity is 25 tons). Changzheng-5B has four launch accelerators with a diameter of 3.35 m each. It uses non-toxic fuels based on liquid hydrogen, kerosene and liquid oxygen. The length of the launch vehicle reaches 53.7 m, the diameter is about 5 m. The starting mass of the product is 849 tons, and the carrying capacity when launched into low Earth orbit is 22 tons.

The successful launch of the rocket laid a solid foundation for the creation of the Chinese orbital space station, which is scheduled to be completed in 2022

It is expected that “Changzheng-5B” will be used to bring the base module of the station into low Earth orbit.

Three weeks later, China completed a series of launches of launch vehicles from two separate launch sites, launching satellites into Earth orbit to take pictures of the Earth and at the same time demonstrating China’s advanced technologies. In 2020, Beijing plans to launch more than 60 spacecraft in more than 40 launches. Over the past two years, China has been the undisputed world leader in the number of successful launches of spacecraft.

At present, China is second only to the United States in terms of the number of operating spacecraft in Earth orbits. As of March 31, 363 Chinese vehicles flew around the Earth.

These opportunities are troubling due to Beijing’s simultaneous investment in space weapons

The Pentagon recently warned that China has developed and uses ground-based and space-based anti-satellite directed energy and electronic warfare systems that threaten the peaceful use of near-Earth outer space.

Evidence suggests that China can develop up to three different anti-satellite systems, Defense News writes.

China has an existing SC-19 anti-satellite weapon system. As a variation of the DF-21 system, the SC-19 ballistic missile is equipped with the KT-2 kinetic interceptor. After being launched into space, the KT-2 is pointed at by infrared sensors. KT-2 has no explosive charge – the interceptor destroys enemy satellites by colliding with them.

In 2007, an outdated Chinese satellite was destroyed by the KT-2 kinetic interceptor. In May 2013, China launched a high-altitude rocket with radio telemetry equipment for conducting experiments. American intelligence believes that in fact they were tests of the SC-19 / KT-2 anti-satellite system. It is believed that the SC-19 rocket can be launched into the middle Earth orbit, which means that the US navigation satellites are in the affected area, so American weapons with GPS-based guidance systems may become useless.

China also has very wide capabilities in orbit, in particular, having satellites with robotic arm technology for checking and repairing spacecraft that the United States has, Defense News writes. According to the US Defense Intelligence Agency, all of this can also serve as a weapon.

In addition to destroying spacecraft directly by anti-satellite weapons, China also uses a wide range of non-destructive weapons such as directed energy and electronic warfare. For example, laser technology is used to blind commercial and military satellites for image capture. Beijing is also working on radio frequency suppression technologies that can degrade or completely suppress satellite communications and global navigation satellite systems such as GPS.

To ensure that Washington continues to compete with Beijing in terms of power, the United States should invest sufficient resources in training its new Space Forces to protect America’s national interests and security in space, Defense News writes.

In accordance with the National Defense Act of 2020, US Space Forces have become the sixth type of US military

Their main purpose is to protect the orbital grouping of US spacecraft from threats from potential opponents of America, and China is considered the main troublemaker in this regard.

The US Space Command (Defense Department 11th Battle Command) has recently finalized its combat use plan, which once again emphasizes “protection against threats.”

Nevertheless, China is expanding its capabilities in space at a pace that is becoming increasingly difficult for the United States to respond accordingly, especially given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the recent success of launching SpaceX at the International Space Station, several launches of launch vehicles have been delayed in the United States due to the coronavirus.

In particular, the California Rocket Lab has delayed the launch of three US intelligence satellites. The launch was planned to be carried out from the launch complex in New Zealand. In April, the U.S. Space Force delayed the launch of the next GPS satellite until at least June 30 to minimize the impact on the personnel of the COVID-19 spaceport.

And the delays caused by the new coronavirus also ensure that the first launch of the NASA Artemis program does not occur until the end of 2021

Recall, Artemis (Artemis) – NASA program to return people to the moon. The project involves American private companies, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan. One of the goals of the program is to send the “first woman and the next man” to the moon. The Artemis program will become a step towards the creation of a permanently inhabited settlement on the Moon and will create the foundation for the exploration of Mars.

Meanwhile, China is already preparing for the next launch – the Tianwen-1 Mars mission, scheduled for July.

Tianwen-1 is a Chinese Mars exploration program. The spacecraft consists of an orbital station, which will fly in orbit around the red planet, and a descent vehicle, providing a soft landing of the rover. The landing of the descent vehicle with the rover will be carried out using parachutes and engines that slow down the fall, as well as inflatable pillows that soften the landing.

The launch of the spacecraft is scheduled from July 23 to August 5, 2020 using the Changzheng-5 heavy launch vehicle.

The aim of the program is to search for life on Mars, both at the current moment and in the past, as well as environmental research.

Space today is “a new high level in the competition of great powers,” and the United States must ensure and maintain its superiority there, Defense News said. To prevent aggression in space, it would be cheaper to rely on multilateral organizations and international standards, the publication believes. However, the Beijing experience of ignoring relevant international norms leaves the United States with no choice but to prepare for self-defense. The US Space Forces budget of $ 15.4 billion for 2021 is the first important step in combating emerging threats in near-Earth space.

In addition, the US cannot ignore the serious economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and the reduction in the defense budget. Washington’s inability to realize key opportunities in space opens up the possibility for China to undermine the strategic advantages of the United States, whose restoration in the long term will cost much more, Defense News believes.

The recent surge in activity of China and Russia in near-Earth space, coupled with the increased pace of development of new intelligence and electronic warfare technologies in these countries, prompted the Pentagon to set a new set of goals that are necessary to maintain US superiority in space.

Space is currently a separate area of ​​warfare that requires large-scale changes in politics, strategies, operations, investments, opportunities and experience for a new strategic environment, according to the recently adopted US Space Defense Strategy.