The dragon is rising; will it be the new ruler of the Space?

China Space Agency released its five-year plan for space exploration on Jan 28th.

There are ambition goals set for the next five years in this document, including expanding the Tiangong Space station, developing the technology required for the Mars sample return mission and shaping an international coalition to build a lunar research facility on the Moon and launching a large space telescope to the orbit.

Some may disregard this document as a wish list or even pure propaganda. It is not that simple.

CNAS five years vision is the 5th version of such a document. When you look back at the previous four versions of this document published in 2000, 2006, 2011 and 2016, you can see that they’re following their promises.

China has been established and demonstrated its abilities for missions in the Earth’sEarth’s low orbit. They have a reliable launch system for satellite launches and human space missions.

They have tested and expanded their Orbital Space Station and plan to develop it more. They have landed on the far side of the Moon – the first in space exploration history – and successfully sent their probe to Mars.

At the same time, China has developed its military capabilities in Space. They already have tested the anti-satellite system and sent a strong signal to the world that if the day comes, they have shown that they don’t hesitate to defend their interest in Space.

Of course, China is not alone in creating the foundation for Space military force. The U.S. officially has created its own Space Force. Russia has tested its capabilities, and even developing countries such as Iran have an eye for military applications of the space industry.

The advancement of China – or any other country – in Space and advancing the human potential for space exploration should be considered the good news. But we are living in a dangerous time. On Earth, we are witnessing how the divisions can overshadow our mutual benefits, and the last thing we want is to bring these conflicts into Space.

When we look at the picture from a little far, we can see a few points of concern.

China’s national flag is seen unfurled from the Chang’e-5 spacecraft on the moon –  (CNSA)

For example, while China gives strength to its presence in the low orbits both in human and robotic explorations, NASA and its allies are focusing their resources on explorations in further destinations. And by doing this, they are leaving the low orbit in the hand of the private companies. Now NASA is wholly relied on the private section for sending its astronauts to and back from the ISS (International Space Station), and beyond that, they announced the retirement of the ISS in the 2030s. After that, NASA hopes new orbital labs will be built and operated by a private company.

But these companies have their own agendas, which don’t always align with the scientific needs and requests. There is a high chance that China will become the leader of microgravity and near-earth scientific experiments in this situation.

Besides that, the tension between China and private companies (especially Space X) is already high.

A few weeks ago, China complained to the U.N. about the Space X Star Link satellites system’s dangers for China’s space station. This is a valid concern, and many people warned about overloading low Earth with satellites. But it could rapidly become a disaster.

Let’s consider the StarLink constellation that gave access to free and unfiltered internet for Chinese people inside China.

In the worst-case scenario, China’s response could be military and using the anti-satellite systems. This will give the west to retaliate again, and the result is not just the loss of many satellites but waves of debris that could paralyze low earth orbit satellites.

The situation could escalate quickly regarding the asteroids and the Moon and the potential of extracting resources from them.

While according to Outer Space Treaty, no country has a claim on objects beyond the atmosphere. A few years ago, the U.S. Senate passed a bill recognizing the ownership of resources that U.S.-based companies extracted in Space. This is someplace where the sparks of conflicts could rise very fast in the near future.

Some of these concerns are unavoidable, but we can do some things about a few of them.

Maybe the first step is updating the laws of Space-based on today’s and tomorrow’s realities and concerns. How much can a private company use the Earth’s low orbit, who can manage the space traffic? What are the consequences of starting a military conflict in Space?

We don’t have clear answers to these questions, and if we don’t think about them right now, we have to pay the price later.

The current path could lead to the prophecy of many science fiction writers who predicted that humanity would export its conflict to Space. We may have a slight chance to prove that this prophecy is not something inevitable.

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