Outwardly, it looked like just another big space launch — and those happen about once a week, from spaceports all around the world. But Friday’s blast-off of a rocket, carrying a Chinese GPS-style navigation satellite, from the Xi Chang Satellite Launch Center was different. It set a record for successful Chinese launches in one year: 15.
The launch represented another important milestone. For the first time since the chilliest days of the Cold War, another country has matched the United States in sheer number of rocket launches.
To some observers, the rapid acceleration of the Chinese space program is perfectly reasonable, even expected. With nearly 20 percent of the world’s population and the planet’s second-biggest economy by some measures, it stands to reason that China would join other advanced, spacefaring nations — and on a grander scale.
But more cautious (or alarmist, depending on your point of view) China-watchers question Beijing’s motives, and warn of potentially dire consequences if China comes to dominate the heavens.
In an interview with Danger Room, space expert Brian Weeden from the Secure World Foundation took a measured view: Sure, China’s catching up fast, but the world’s most powerful Communist country still has a long way to go before it can go toe-to-toe with the United States in space.
Weeden’s argument boils down to an appreciation of quality versus quantity. “On a pure technology basis, I would put them [China] behind the established spacefaring states such as the United States, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan. This is largely due to China’s deficiencies in advanced technology in general and not limited to just space. However, on a space-capability basis, I would put them ahead of everyone but the United States and Russia, and just behind those two leaders.”
In other words, China makes up for the generally lower-quality of its spacecraft by building more of them — and a greater variety.
Read moreChina Matches US Space Launches for First Time