Chinese space plans cause military jitters

China has announced plans to put its own space station in orbit by 2020. The 60-tonne construction will be one-seventh the weight of the ISS and will focus on scientific experiments. However, military involvement with the project is causing concern.

Beijing’s Space City research center is opening its doors to the media, as China has announced its intention to build a rival to the International Space Station.

While some see Chinese advances in space travel as a potential threat, the country’s officials are keen to stress the spirit of co-operation, which they say is behind China’s space program.

“We are looking forward to co-operating with other countries in the field of space exploration,” said Yang Liwei, Vice Director of Manned Space Engineering Bureau. “We are also looking forward to having more countries join this club, so we can promote the common goals of mankind.”  

For the moment though, the Chinese space program is doing very well on its own.

Since becoming only the third country in the world to send a person in to space, in 2003, the Chinese also carried out a space walk in 2008 and the country is not going to stop there.

China’s extraterrestrial ambitions go far beyond the launching of its own space station.

The Chinese are hoping to land a man on the moon by 2025 and a man on Mars by 2040, which is an ambitious timetable by anyone’s standards.

However, it is the very speed and nature of China’s space program that have some, including the US, worried. Most of the tens of billions of dollars that the Chinese have spent on these projects has come from the country’s military budget.

With China’s downing of a damaged weather satellite using a ballistic missile in 2007, some are now talking of the potential for a new space arms race.

“China is developing its space program like any other superpower,” a professor at the People’s University of Beijing, Shi Yinhong, says. “All the technology is being developed to come with dual use, civilian and military. This is the most advanced of technology and is mostly used during peace time, but if needed, some technology could also be used during war time, and there is nothing strange about this.”

Chinese officials deny the country’s manned space program has any military use, and instead prefer to emphasize the spirit of mutual peace and partnership that acts as a driving force for its “taikonauts”, China’s astronauts.

Several European countries are expressing interest in using any future space station for research, and Beijing says that it is currently working with Russia on its mission to put a man on Mars.