China's Growing Strengths and Ambitions in Space

Maybe I’m out of the loop, but I had no idea China had their own space station called Tiangong which means ‘Heavenly Palace’.

The station was launched into orbit in April 2021 and is being built over the next year. Currently, three Chinese astronauts reside at the station helping to assemble it.

The only other space station is the International Space Station (ISS) which is operated by the U.S., Russia, Japan, Europe, and Canada. China is excluded from the ISS which is why they launched their own.

The ISS has been operational for over 22 years and is expected to be retired after 2024. This means Tiangong may be the only station in earth’s orbit which seems like a very big deal that no one is actively working on to change (BBC).

In December 2020, China’s Chang'e-5 probe successfully brought back rock and "soil" it picked up from the moon. At the time it was seen as another demonstration of the country's increasing capability in space (BBC).

China and Russia have also signed a contract to develop research facilities on the surface of the moon, in orbit or both. Chen Lan, an analyst who specializes in China's space program, had told news agency AFP that "this will be the largest international space co-operation project for China, so it's significant."

On May 14, 2021, China became the second country in the world to land and operate a rover on the surface of Mars.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for China to pursue a “space dream” to transform China into a world-leading space power by 2045.

It’s clear that China has big ambitions in space and is starting to execute at the highest level.

I’m curious how SpaceX and other private sector companies will enter the mix? Will SpaceX launch their own space station? How will the American private space sector emerge in this new space race?

This will be something important to watch unfold.