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China: The new superpower in space?

A new arms race

The United States sees itself in a "space race" with China. But from Beijing's perspective an arms race in low earth orbit between the U.S. and China has long since begun. In reaching for the stars, China and the U.S. are not only competing for national prestige and global technological leadership, but also for geopolitical influence and military power.

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Just 20 years after China first sent a taikonaut into space, the People's Republic now operates a modern space station on its own. Besides the International Space Station (ISS), the Chinese „Tiangong" is the only orbital complex in space. In May 2021, China became the second spacefaring nation after the United States to deploy its Mars rover "Zhurong" on the Red Planet. In the near future, a landing on a near-Earth asteroid is planned, as is a manned moon landing, which is officially targeted before 2030. A Jupiter mission could follow. The basis for past successes and future endeavors is provided by high-performance spaceports. In January, it was announced that China plans to build Africa's first spaceport in Djibouti.

China's massive investment in space transportation facilities is also closely tied to the race for low earth orbit: Chinese military officials, for example, point to the potential threat to China from the Starlink network of Elon Musk's U.S. company SpaceX. Starlink's stated goal is to provide "high-speed, low-latency broadband Internet" to potential customers worldwide via a network of thousands of satellites.  Beijing's concern: space is limited. The Chinese military, for example, estimates that at most 50,000 satellites can be placed in low earth orbit. Starlink could take up to 80 percent of those spots. In addition, China fears that SpaceX could be used for military purposes.

The article highlights China's ambitions in space and the security implications of Starlink. It also shows how Beijing is reacting to the technological lead given by the USA. For China, SpaceX is both a role model and an adversary.

The full-length publication is only available in German.

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