How To Win The 21st Century Space Race

  • by Dr. Herbert I. London
  • 07-24-2018

China’s clear goal is to achieve regional mastery through driving the U.S. out of the western Pacific. While my previous column focused on its use of muscle flexing, self-righteous policies on land, a significant part of the country’s future strategy will also take place in outer space.

As stated by Chinese military affairs specialist Rick Fischer, the country desires “to achieve control of low earth orbit in order to defeat the United States on earth.”

Its desire and drive to win the space race is evident through its creation of a Space Force in 2014, its expectation of reaching milestone landings on the Moon by 2018 and Mars by 2020, and its recent testing of an anti-satellite and anti-ballistic missile system that some consider capable of destroying most U.S. satellites.

While China has continued to make progress towards space dominance, until recently, the U.S. has done very little to defend its supremacy.

Over the past decade, America saw the cancellation of its Constellation Program, which would have brought completion of the International Space Station, sent a crewed flight to Mars, and returned American astronauts to the Moon by 2020.

Its revocation, inspired by the Augustine Commission and executed without any consultation with Congress, was replaced with a lackluster plan to reach Mars by the 2030s — a goal that was as uninspiring as it was damaging to the U.S.’s national security strategy and projection of strength in the international sphere.

Recognizing rogue nations’ intergalactic threats for what they are — a hazard that, in the words of US Air Force Chief of Staff General David L. Goldstein, will cause the U.S. to begin fighting from space “in a matter of years” — the Trump administration has made significant strides in correcting the short-sighted errors of the past by significantly expanding the U.S.’s space presence.

The president’s signing of a December 2017 executive order to send American astronauts back to the Moon and Mars was an essential step in rectifying the sharp disparity in what the Air Force considered to be the U.S.’s “50-year journey” to operationalize space compared to China’s “ten-year plan.”

However, of primary significance in solidifying the U.S.’s space dominance is the president’s intent to create a militarized Space Force of our own. This new military branch will be “separate but equal” to the U.S. Air Force and signal to adversaries that the U.S. is here to stay as the superpower in space.

To develop the technology needed to succeed, some mainstream media pundits, enamored with the progress of newer upstarts, have appeared to ignore the need for inclusivity and competition.

For example, tech site Next Big Future hailed SpaceX’s up-and-coming BFR rocket as the one innovation capable of preventing China from rising above the U.S. in space.

It is important to remember the adverse effects that non-competitive bidding had on the space industry, concerning innovation, pricing, and results, in the first half of this decade. History may tend to repeat itself, but if the U.S. is to adequately draw a line in the sand with China, it cannot afford to reverse course.

Martian Doubts

Weeks ago, former astronaut and International Space Station commander Chris Hadfield expressed doubt that NASA, Blue Origin, and even the BFR from SpaceX — the important but still-maturing company that has an imperfect track record and unresolved security concerns with the Department of Defense — can reach Mars under current conditions, citing dangerous operational conditions.

Moving forward, the challenge for the Trump administration will be working with all the major aerospace contractors — Aerojet Rocketdyne, Blue Origin, SpaceX, the United Launch Alliance, and the rest — to formulate reliable technology sufficient enough to achieve the country’s new and necessary space objectives.

Even as a collective effort, it will surely be a difficult task. However, given how the president’s efforts have renewed America’s interest in space to China-like proportions, I have a feeling that the White House is more than ready and poised to achieve what needs to be done.

When there is a will, there is almost always a way.