The decade long monopoly on space held by Russia and the United States is finally being challenged. India and China are now leading a small pack of countries that are beginning to contest the Russo-American domination of our inner atmosphere.
The American space program was dragged back into the spotlight by President Trump in the very final statements of his Address to Congress on Tuesday, February 28th as he made a very brief remark about putting American footprints on more distant worlds. This remarkable feat would be Trumps ideal plan to celebrate the 250th birthday of our beloved nation. According to the LA Times Many experts believe that sending humans into space once again would actually be a step in the complete wrong direction for the country and possibly disastrous rather than beneficial for science itself.
While our President was making outrageous comments as he does best, the Indian space program has been making strides, launching 104 separate satellites into the atmosphere on the same rocket, which was reported by space.com. The previous record, held by Russia, only included 34 satellites; childsplay compared to the new record set in India on February 14th. This record was able to be set by the sheer undercutting of launch prices involved. Missile launches like this one are an estimated 70% cheaper than the same launches if they were held in the United States.
The piece of this competition that is giving our American government the most headache is the use of space for military purposes by these two growing world powers.
Last year, Chinese president, Xi Jinping, boasted about the country’s ambitions to put Chinese astronauts on the dark side of the moon by 2036, build a permanent radar station on the moon (which the Russian space program also talked about doing last year), and possibly send a manned mission to Mars in some of the decades to come.
On the Scientific front alone, China recently launched the world’s first Quantum satellite, a type of satellite designed to set up completely and utterly unhackable communications between the ground and air, and last year launched the world’s largest radio telescope that took 22 years of planning to put into action. This also would include perhaps China’s most ambitious goal which is to put their very own space station into space in 2022 around the same time the International Space Station will start coming to a close.
On the military front in China, who is already one of the biggest military worries for the United States, China has put an “anti-satellite” system into place that uses missiles able to shoot down any satellite they want. China demonstrated the functionality of this system by removing one of their own, outdated satellites from the sky. This prompted an arm race of sorts in which the United States and Russia were forced to subsequently demonstrate that their missile defense systems could alsop shoot down satellites after some development. These developments have many people in the American military skeptical of a “space Pearl-Harbor” of sorts. Others believe that the Chinese government simply admires the Russo-American domination of the Earth’s atmosphere and just want to “hang with the big kids”.
On the contrary to China, India is using the cheap missile launches to start a monopoly of sorts on launches like the one that put got them in the record books. Of the 104 satellites, 88 belong to a San-Francisco based startup company called, Planet Labs’, a company that hopes to put a constellation of satellites into the sky that can be used to map the world on an everyday basis. This outsourcing of missile launch to India came in direct conflict with a government policy that specifically keeps companies like Planet Labs’ from using these cheap Indian missile launches. Though the government has done nothing to enforce this policy yet, talk of lifting the policy could bring a huge flow of cash for many more missile launches out of India. With this news it appears that the Indian government is focusing as much as they can on the commercial launch of small satellites.
Currently there are about 1,500 fully operational satellites orbiting Earth, but with a space new age space race like this one ramping up, we should be seeing an extremely dramatic increase in this number within the next decade.
By: Colby Nicholson