China is on track to eventually overtake the US in space

TThe US may be celebrating the upcoming launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) lunar rocket and the serial successes of the James Webb Space Telescope, but according to at least some experts, there is a potential skunk at the space picnic: China. Like Defense one reports, a new analysis conducted by experts from the Space Force, the Air Force, the Department of Defense Innovation and others, concluded that when it comes to playing the long game in space, Beijing can beat the US.

For starters, there is the militarization of space activities by China. On the side space The program has mastered the ability to rendezvous one satellite with another in orbit, allowing close-range kills, either by destroying an enemy satellite with a projectile or by blinding its optics with lasers. It also develops jamming and other cyber capabilities.

China’s space station goals also worry analysts. Beijing is currently building a small three-module station in low Earth orbit. While the outpost is modest compared to the 16-module International Space Station (ISS), China is working to establish a permanent presence on the space station. Meanwhile, the aging ISS is scheduled to be shut down and de-orbited no later than 2030.

Read more: Falling space debris is a greater threat than ever

Finally, the report’s authors worry about American politics. Over the past 18 years, US goals for manned deep space exploration have changed many times, with the moon or an asteroid or Mars or some combination of those destinations on the itinerary depending on who was sitting in the Oval Office. China’s autocratic government – ​​while not something to be envied – at least has the advantage of choosing a destination and sticking to it. Beijing is currently aiming to have astronauts on the moon by 2030 – with no deviation from those plans foreseen. Without such a “North Star vision,” as the report’s authors put it, the U.S. is likely to cede its space leadership to China by 2045.

This story originally appeared in TIME Space, our weekly newsletter covering all things space. You can register here.

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