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China refutes U.S. claim that it's pushing space 'arms race'
"Here I want to remind all of you of a fact that the U.S. publicly defines outer space as a new battlefield," a Chinese foreign minister said.
|U.S. Air Force|
- A Chinese foreign minister refuted U.S. claims that China and Russia are developing space weaponry.
- China and Russia have recently ramped up cooperation on space programs.
- Meanwhile, the U.S. has been skeptical of both nations, arguing that they're likely developing an array of space weapons.
Amid ongoing disarmament talks in Geneva, a Chinese foreign minister on Wednesday refuted U.S. accusations that China and Russia are advancing a space arms race by developing anti-satellite weapons and laser weapons.
"The Chinese side did not, and will not take part in an arms race in outer space of any form. Our stance remains unchanged," Chinese Foreign Minister Spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters.
"Here I want to remind all of you of a fact that the U.S. publicly defines outer space as a new battlefield. It has built an Outer Space Command and is building an outer space troop, and it plans to deploy laser weapons in outer space. Who is worsening the threat of weaponization and turning it into a battlefield? Who is threatening the security of outer space? I believe the answers are self-evident."
Geng said the U.S. has "publicly positioned outer space as a new battlefield," noting that the Trump administration plans to build a space force, and claiming that the American military seeks to place "laser weapons in outer space."
The remarks came in response to criticism from Assistant State Secretary of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Yleem Poblete, who on Tuesday asked how the U.S. could "trust Russian arms control efforts and their seriousness about preventing an arms race in outer space when they have touted the development and completion of a broad array of counter-space capabilities."
She also voiced skepticism about the trustworthiness of the two world powers:"Similar to Russia, it is difficult to determine the truthfulness of China's concern about the prevention of an arms race in space and their support for space arms control when China:
- continues to pursue military capabilities such as jammers and directed energy weapons;
- when it openly emphasizes the need for offensive cyberspace capabilities;
- when it demonstrates sophisticated on-orbit capabilities with the potential for dual-uses; and
- when China has deployed an operational ground-based anti-satellite missile intended to target low-Earth-orbit satellites, with likely research on anti-satellite capabilities designed to threaten all orbits."
Geng denied these claims.
"The U.S. accusations against China are totally groundless. China will not accept them. If the U.S. side truly cares about the security of outer space, it should work with China and Russia and actively participate in the arms control process of outer space instead of doing the opposite."
U.S. concern over Russian and Chinese space weapons
In June 2018, China and Russia agreed to start cooperating on lunar and deep space exploration. That same month, the Trump administration announced its intent to create a space force. It's not hard to see how China and Russia are likely threatened by U.S. space capabilities. After all, America has more operating satellites than any other nation, has a sprawling global military presence that includes space ground stations, and has been rather outspoken about space being the battlefield of the future.
Likewise, U.S. military officials have been skeptical of Russia's and China's intentions in space. In February, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency made public a report that said both nations are likely developing an array of space weapons and anti-satellite weapons, including "jamming and cyberspace capabilities, directed energy weapons, on-orbit capabilities, and ground-based antisatellite missiles that can achieve a range of reversible to nonreversible effects."
Peaceful cooperation in space
In recent decades, China has evolved into a leading international space power. As Frank A. Rose, a senior fellow for the Atlantic Council's Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, recently laid out in his testimony before the House Committee on Science, China aims to:
- assemble a lunar research station beginning in 2025,
- perform a crewed Moon landing mission in 2036
- establish and establish a Lunar Research and Development Base around 2050
- send a mission to Jupiter around 2029.
Rose notes that these projects "present multiple opportunities for international collaboration and partnership."
"However, as this committee knows well, one of the key challenges to actively engaging China in more robust civil space cooperation is the fact that the Chinese civil space program is controlled by the Chinese military," Rose said. "Therefore, there is a real possibility that any bilateral cooperation could contribute to China's military space programs. In addition to its anti-satellite programs, China is also improving its space-based military reconnaissance, remote sensing capabilities, and communications capabilities."
But that's not to say there's no way the U.S. and China could find a way to peacefully collaborate in space. There's historical precedent for such cooperation, too, as Rose points out: The U.S. and the Soviet Union agreed to an Apollo-Soyuz docking mission amid the Cold War in 1975.
"Some feared that this mission would compromise the U.S. space program while providing further rewards to the Soviet program," Michael Krepon of the Stimson Center wrote. "These anxieties proved to be overdrawn…The Apollo-Soyuz mission established practices of cooperation in space between Washington and Moscow that continue to this day on the international space station."
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Got $55 million lying around? If so, you might be able to score a spot aboard the International Space Station starting 2024.
- NASA awarded a contract to startup Axiom Space to attach a "habitable commercial module" to the International Space Station.
- The project will also include a research and manufacturing module.
- The move is a major step in NASA's years-long push to privatize.
Image: Axiom Space<p>But first, space-tourist-hopefuls would have to pass through physical and medical exams, and 15 weeks of expert training. After that, the trip sounds pretty comfy:</p><p>"There will be wifi," Suffredini <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/09/style/axiom-space-travel.html" target="_blank">told the New York Times</a> last year. "Everybody will be online. They can make phone calls, sleep, look out the window. [...] The few folks that have gone to orbit as tourists, it wasn't really a luxurious experience, it was kind of like camping. [...] Pretty soon we're going to be flying a butler with every crew."</p>
A render of the ISS tourist experience.
Image: Axiom Space<p>In a blog post, NASA wrote:</p><p>"Developing commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit is one of <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-opens-international-space-station-to-new-commercial-opportunities-private" target="_blank">five elements</a> of NASA's plan to open the International Space Station to new commercial and marketing opportunities. The other elements of the five-point plan include efforts to make station and crew resources available for commercial use through a new commercial use and pricing policy; enable private astronaut missions to the station; seek out and pursue opportunities to stimulate long-term, sustainable demand for these services; and quantify NASA's long-term demand for activities in low-Earth orbit."</p>
NASA's push to privatize the ISS<p>When a Russian rocket launched the first module of the ISS into space in 1998, NASA expected the space station to operate for about 15 years. But the agency has extended the life of the ISS twice, with funding currently set to expire in 2024. NASA spends between $3 and $4 billion per year operating and shuttling astronauts to and from the station. That's a decent chunk of the agency's $22.6 annual budget. What's more, the "major structural elements" of the ISS are certified only through 2028.</p><p>Meanwhile, NASA has been eyeing other projects, namely: putting humans back on the moon in 2024 and establishing a lunar presence. So, to save and redirect money, the agency has been starting to hand over the aging space station to the private sector, which could use it for commercial research and space tourism.</p><p>But some have questioned the move to privatize the ISS, including NASA's own inspector general, Paul K. Martin.</p><p>"An obvious alternative to privatization is to extend current ISS operations," Martin wrote in a <a href="https://oig.nasa.gov/docs/CT-18-001.pdf" target="_blank">2018 report</a>. "An extension to 2028 or beyond would enable NASA to continue critical on-orbit research into human health risks and to demonstrate the technologies that will be required for future missions to the Moon or Mars."</p>
Image: Axiom Space<p>Martin noted that "research into 2 other human health risks and 17 additional technology gaps is not scheduled to be completed until sometime in 2024," meaning that any slip-ups in the process would mean such research might go uncompleted. He also wrote that it's "questionable" whether the private sector could turn a profit on the ISS without "significant" government funding. The Institute for Defense Analyses, a federally funded research and development center, <a href="https://docs.house.gov/meetings/SY/SY00/20180517/108302/HHRG-115-SY00-Wstate-LalB-20180517.pdf" target="_blank">also found</a> that it "is unlikely that a commercially owned and operated space station will be economically viable by 2025."</p><p>The implication is that, if the ISS is handed over to the private sector, taxpayers could end up indirectly supporting space tourism for the ultra-rich. Whether that's worth any of the research benefits that might come from the ISS post-2024 is anybody's guess.</p><p>As the ISS enters its final years, China <a href="http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-10/17/c_138479514.htm" target="_blank">plans</a> to complete construction of a manned space station in 2022.</p>
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