China´s Chang’e 4 mission to the far side of the Moon marks an astro-political epoch in the power balance with NASA, a senior strategy analyst claims.
Dr Malcolm Davis, senior analyst in defence strategy and capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, believes there are broad implications to the Chinese Chang’e 4 lunar mission.
These are due to the Moon’s increasing militarily strategic importance and the Communist state’s growing technological prowess.
Dr Davis said: “China is a rising superpower and they are clearly challenging the US in space leadership.
“The Chinese clearly have an ambitious space program that will include further missions to the Moon, culminating in human lunar missions with a lunar base.
“And they will have a space station up by 2022 which will potentially supplant the International Space Station (ISS), if funding runs out for that.”
The strategy analyst believes there are three reasons for China’s extraterrestrial ambitions, military concerns, national honour and a hunger for resources.
“China is wanting to personally develop the sorts of military space capabilities to allow infomationalisation warfare – giving them the ability to fight the sorts of wars with information systems that you saw the US use in the 1991 Gulf War and Iraq.
“This is essential for them to be an effective power, and satellites and space capabilities are vital to that.
Related Article: Moon offers China a new frontier and a new Silk Road into Space.
“Paraphrasing General Montgomery ‘If we lose control of space, we lose the war and we lose it quickly.’
“The second aspect of the military side of things is to deny space to their opponents, through the development of counter space capabilities and anti-satellite weapons.”
National prestige also play a part in China’s long-term plans to control space.
“China will argue its time has come, geopolitically – it is returning as the Middle Kingdom – the centre of power on the planet.
“It was Xi Jinping’s intention, when you look at his policies at prompting Chinese perspectives on international governance and development through the Belt and Road initiative, and they even have a space Silk Road concept to get states to align with China through systems like Baidu.
“So the Chinese do have a national prestige aspect here and space is symbolic aspect of China’s ascendency.”
China, with a population in excess of billion and a growing middle class is among a growing number of countries aware of the almost infinite amount of resources available in outer space.
Dr Davis said: “Everyone understands the Moon is full of Helium-3 –vital for nuclear fusion power and the Moon is also a natural filling station for water, that can be transformed into nuclear propellant.
“So if you want an expanding and self-sustaining space-bearing civilisation that is cost effective, the worst thing you can do is haul it up through Earth’s gravity – you have to space-centric approach – you control the Moon and Earth’s asteroids.
“There are valuable resources on the Moon and near-Earth asteroids including titanium and platinum, which will generate wealth.
Related Story: Why You should be Happy about China’s historic Moon Landing.
“So all three areas China is very much focused on space and understands the benefits of being a space-bearing actor.”
The astounding success of China’s nascent space program appears in stark contrast with the seemingly stagnating NASA.
Dr Davis said: “There is a lot of despair about a lack or direction and strategy in NASA.
“Part of the fault lies with the US government of the day, which constantly shifts the focus from Mars to the Moon and back again, combined with a lack of funding.
“NASA has a responsibility to lead and develop coherent policy and it is just not doing that.
“So we have, for example, NASA spending a huge amount of money on their Space Launch System (SLS) – a new vehicle but an old concept, rather than embracing new technologies.
“Essentially they are recreating the Apollo missions, but they lack the willingness to go the next step and put astronauts on the lunar surface with the space gateway – a concept that does not really have a purpose.
“So if China makes rapid progress in terms of its lunar missions, such as Chang’e 5 and their space station, and ultimately to put Taikonauts on the lunar surface, then this will generate the incentive for NASA to get it together and not get left behind.
“There is a distinct possibility that the next humans on the Moon could either be commercial astronauts or Chinese and I am not sure how NASA could handle that. “
Commercial agents, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX program and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, are set to play an ever-expanding role in space exploration, believes the Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst.
“We are just getting started in this competitive environment and I would expect this competition to start picking up in the next decade or so, both in the near-Earth environment of LEO (Low Earth Orbit) to GEO (Geostationary Orbit) and also around the Moon.
“Competition generates innovation and advancement and progress would slow without it.
“We have not really seen much progress since the days of Apollo; we have had the shuttle and ISS and obviously great science being done with unmanned props, but in terms of human missions we really haven’t seen much.
“We are potential on the cusp of a new golden age of space exploration which will primarily be led by commercial actors but also a broader humber of states.
“The key thing with all these countries is to encourage the commercial sector because that is where you get the rapid breakthroughs and progress, and you start to do things in a radically different manner, slo you don’t get this tax-payer funded end-to-end space program that is slow and risk-adverse and cautious to the point that you have NASA revisiting the same grounds you had in the 1960s.”