In addition to the launch of a first satellite on 24 April 1970, China’s space programme has long remained as empty as the Gobi Desert. China didn’t enter the race until the 1990s.
Since then, progress has been tremendous. Today, the world’s leading economic power continues to catch up at a phenomenal rate and has impressive and sometimes worrying ambitions.
This year alone, the Chinese have already made 24 launches and are planning at least 16 more.
The Chinese authorities do not intend to stop there: as early as 2020, will put into service three new launchers (Long March 5 bis, 7 and 8) and a Rover will leave for Mars, a response to the American and European missions (March 2020 and ExoMars).
Where, then, will their celestial ambitions end? President Xi Jinping’s objective is clear: his country must become the leader, particularly in space, by 2049, the hundred years of China’s Popular Republic.
Solar power plants, or military stations, in geostationary orbit?
However, China will not be satisfied in the long term with only imitating what the other major space powers have achieved, but will seek to fulfill its designs, not necessarily pacifist ones.
Thus, the most impressive project consists of building one or more solar power plants in geostationary orbit (at 36,000 km above the ground) which will convert electricity into microwaves or lasers before being returned to Earth.
While it suggests a constant supply of electricity, it also raises a concern: by controlling this type of energy transfer, it would be easy to transform this power plant into a space weapon that could strike anywhere.
The Chinese space sector remains mostly controlled by the military-industrial complex, whose culture of legendary secrecy prevents observers from knowing what China’s aim is.
The Chinese still have to catch up on a considerable gap. They are just beginning to design their heavy launcher (Long March 9) without which they cannot reach the Moon or Mars. Nevertheless, The United States maintains a considerable lead. Above all, they will never let their “enemy” invade geostationary orbit, or settle alone on our natural satellite.
The entire American space industry is preparing for installation on the Moon. From NASA to SpaceX or even Blue Origin, innovations such as low-cost launchers will allow Americans to continue to dominate the space sector. China will try to keep up. Above all, its ability to complete its lunar program does not convince everyone.