Who will win the Space Race?

Advancements in Space Technology in the Western World (primarily the UK and the USA) have centered around billionaires and their personal whims. Virgin Galactic for Richard Branson (centre), Blue Origin for Jeff Bezos (L) and SpaceX for Elon Musk (R). Bezos and Branson have personally flown into space with their spacecraft and have sold space flights for millionaires.

Musk, on the other hand, has more revolutionary visions such as colonising Mars + Interplanetary travel. He was also the one who thought of bringing rockets back to earth to be reused instead of being abandoned. In the meantime, both Bezos and Musk make money by sending satellites as well as payloads to the International Space Station (ISS) with their rockets.

In direct contrast is China's space programme that is state owned and run and has very little to do with fulfilling personal dreams and celebrity. Instead, the programme is meant to help (and earn money from) people who currently do not have adequate satellite coverage such as the many Western provinces of China as well as countries in Central Asia as well as Africa. For example, while the rest of the world relies on GPS (Global Positioning System) to navigate, people in Kazahkstan, Pakistan, Kenya & Tunisisa and use BDS (Bei Dou System 北斗卫星导航系统). Moreover, only BDS has a 2-way communication system built into it.

As of July 2022, 30 African nations use BDS for surveying and mapping land for development or agricultural production, whether they be for hospitals, building of dams, highways, pipe lines or freight trains.

However, no system run by men is benign, especially when they are governments with large resources and a standing army. While there are many important functions that the satellites can provide humankind such as navigation, rescue operations, climate research, freight tracking, hydrography, precision planting, etc., the same satellites can obviously be used for military targetting purposes. The US in particular has looked at China's space programme with extreme suspicion, suggesting that since the Chinese have mastered the ability to rendezvous one satellite with another in orbit, they can therefore conduct "close-up kills" and destroy enemy satellites with projectiles, blinding lasers or simply jamming them.

In the best response possible, the Chinese have largely ignored conjectures by the US Military and Space Force, regarding the Americans as children throwing a tantrum. Instead they have continued selling / expanding their digital global logistics and supply chain services to countries along the Belt and Road Initiative / formerly One Belt One Road (BRI or OBOR) made possible by Chinese satellites: BDS.

With no such similar global vision, many have styled this rivalry between the US and China as the new Space Race (the old one being between the USSR and USA from 1957-1969). However, things could take a much uglier turn as this time around this race has no clear end goal such as who gets to put boots down on the moon first. This race is ultimately about who gets to send as many satellites into which orbital levels first so that others cannot send them without running the risk of collisions and interferences. Already, millions of space junk orbit our earth with 27,000 pieces large enough to cause major damage. Who is responsible for cleaning up all of the debris left by abandoned spacecraft, used launch vehicle stages, solid rocket motors and the like?

As we become more and more reliant on the functions provided by satellites in the 21st century, the US insists that China understands this only too well and therefore wants to control space. In short, whoever controls the satellites, controls the world. China insists that the Americans are deluded and always look at the world through the lens of antagonism when all China wants to do is provide better services to the underserved regions of the world.