24/7 Space News
Will Sino-US space competition stop at Mars
With China's space station already in operation, the next phase of China's manned space program is likely to be aimed at exploring the moon, conducting research on and about the moon, and eventually landing astronauts on Mars, following a new "three-step" plan.
Will Sino-US space competition stop at Mars
by Staff Writers
Beijing (XNA) Sep 15, 2023

While attending a conference in the United States recently, I overheard an American expert discussing the space competition between China and the US. After the event, I approached the expert to inquire about the possibility of space cooperation between the two countries. His answer is a matter of concern. He explained that as long as the US Congress doesn't withdraw the ban it announced in 2011, official space collaboration between China and the US is unlikely.

The escalating competition between China and the US in cislunar space risks spiraling out of control. And all signs suggest their space rivalry may extend to Mars in the next two to three decades, possibly leading to even more negative consequences.

To avoid such a future, the two sides should explore possibilities for cooperation. But for that, the US Congress needs to abandon its zero-sum thinking, paving the way for the early lifting of the ban on space cooperation and, thereby, raising hopes for Sino-US collaboration in space.

SpaceX's Starlink satellites, which comprise the majority of satellites in orbit, have made space exploration more affordable and efficient for a number of countries. But without proper management, the growing number of satellites in low Earth orbit could trigger the Kessler Syndrome.

The Kessler Syndrome, the brainchild of National Aeronautical and Space Administration scientist Donald J. Kessler in 1978, is a phenomenon in which, after the amount of junk (including defunct satellites) in orbit around Earth reach a certain threshold, collisions between objects become inevitable. These collisions will produce more debris, leading to a cascading effect and more collisions, and overwhelming the Earth's orbit with space debris, causing immense problems for satellites, astronauts and space mission planners, even preventing further satellite launches.

This interruption in space exploration would have a devastating impact on industries reliant on satellites for weather, navigation, communication, rendering them unsustainable.

The massive number of Starlink satellites (both operational and defunct) has raised concerns due to multiple instances of potential collision with spacecraft, including near misses with Chinese satellites. On Dec 3, 2021, the Chinese delegation to the United Nations and other international organizations in Vienna sent a note to the UN Secretary-General, saying that on July 1 and Oct 21, 2021, China's space station had to perform emergency maneuvers to avoid close encounters with Starlink satellites 1095 and 2305, respectively, to prevent accidents. While space exploration companies have attributed these incidents to technical malfunctioning, this explanation is less than convincing.

Even if we were to accept the claim of technical malfunctioning, the sheer number (more than 40,000) of planned Starlink satellites, even with a 1 percent failure rate, would generate a substantial amount of debris in low Earth orbit, leading to more incidents like the 2021"near misses". If this is left unchecked, the Kessler Syndrome will become reality with dangerous consequences.

To prevent this scenario, China and the US should engage in space cooperation. However, such efforts still face resistance from the US Congress. Even when the Barack Obama administration tried to establish space cooperation with China, the Congress dashed any such hopes by passing the "Wolf Amendment," in 2011.

The amendment, proposed by Republican Congressman Frank Wolf and included in the 2011 Appropriations Act, prohibits NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from engaging in joint research with China. It also bars all NASA facilities from hosting "official Chinese visitors". As a result, measures were taken to restrict Sino-US space collaboration, preventing Chinese scientists from participating in international space conferences held in the US, and severely limiting communication and exchanges on space exploration between the two sides.

In fact, the US has declared that outer space is not a "global commons" and established a Space Force. These actions contradict the spirit of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which advocates the peaceful use of outer space. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently acknowledged that space has become a theater for major power competition, with China being the US' "greatest space threat". The US Congress further reinforced this competitive stance in space against China by increasing appropriations for NASA in the CHIPS and Science Act.

But collisions in low Earth orbit are just one aspect of the Sino-US space competition. Other issues include concerns over equipping traditional satellites with nuclear materials, direct-ascent anti-satellite weapon tests, and space debris from spacecraft re-entries. Each of these problems is highly complex, and without China and the US reaching a consensus on these issues, they could potentially trigger a new crisis in bilateral relations.

With China's space station already in operation, the next phase of China's manned space program is likely to be aimed at exploring the moon, conducting research on and about the moon, and eventually landing astronauts on Mars, following a new "three-step" plan.

Despite setbacks in SpaceX's Starship launches, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk remains determined to land astronauts on Mars before 2050. Therefore, the likelihood of Chinese and US astronauts meeting on Mars is a possibility. If both countries can reach an agreement before this happens, and engage in peaceful cooperation to develop and use (if possible) Martian resources for the benefit of all humanity, it would be a rare piece of good news for the peoples in the two countries as well as those in the rest of the world.

The US Congress should abandon its Cold War mentality and zero-sum games, lift all sanctions, and refrain from committing further mistakes by putting its self-interest above common good. Although neither the US expert nor this author is overly optimistic about Sino-US space cooperation, the facts remain that there are only eight planets in the solar system, and Earth is the only place we can call home. Hence, it would be best if the competition between China and the US stops at Mars.

The author is an assistant research fellow at the Department for American Studies, China Institute of International Studies. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Source: Xinhua News Agency

Related Links
Space War
Military Space News at

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters

The following news reports may link to other Space Media Network websites.
NASA joins the still controversial search for UFOs
Washington (AFP) Sept 14, 2023
NASA on Thursday officially joined the search for UFOs - but reflecting the stigma attached to the field, the US space agency wouldn't identify the director of the new program tasked with tracking mystery flying objects. The official's appointment is the result of a year-long NASA fact-finding report into what NASA calls "unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP)." "At NASA, it's in our DNA to explore - and to ask why things are the way they are," NASA chief Bill Nelson said. An independent t ... read more

Kombucha: Ally for Moon and Mars

Virgin Galactic notches fourth spaceflight in four months

Artificial star

China continues to make strides in space breeding technique

Mini space thruster that runs on water

Rocket Lab signs deal with Leidos to launch 4 HASTE missions

The Vostochny cosmodrome: symbol of Moscow's struggling space sector

Musk biography describes troubled tycoon driven by demons

Another Martian Weekend" Sols 3943-3945

Sols 3936-3939: Double the Fun

China publishes new datasets obtained by Mars, lunar probes

NASA's completes Oxygen-Generating Experiment MOXIE

Tianzhou 5 spacecraft burns up on Earth reentry

Crew of Shenzhou XV mission honored for six-month space odyssey

China solicits names for manned lunar exploration vehicles

From rice to quantum gas: China's targets pioneering space research

DISA and US Space Force award Iridium PLEO satellite-based services contract

Telesat, SpaceX announce agreement to launch satellites

Intelsat, Aalyria sign deal to advance multi-orbit connectivity

Vodafone and Amazon's Project Kuiper to extend connectivity in Africa and Europe

GMV tests robot for assembly and maintenance of structures in Earth orbit

Sidus contracts with HEO for non-Earth imaging payload data services

Terran Orbital expands manufacturing at Irvine plant

Apple to update iPhone 12 in France over radiation

On the road to spotting alien life

Scientists detect and validate the longest-period exoplanet found with TESS

New giant planet evidence of possible planetary collisions

Hot Jupiter blows its top

Possible existence of Earth-like planet predicted in Outskirts of Solar System

SwRI will lead Hubble, Webb observations of Io, Jupiter's volcanic moon

In the service of planetary science, astrophysics and heliophysics

Mysterious Neptune dark spot detected from Earth for the first time

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters


The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2023 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.