This year, through the end of September, China launched 29 satellites, more than any other nation. Pictured: A Long March 3B rocket, carrying the Beidou-3GEO3 satellite, lifts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China's Sichuan province on June 23, 2020. (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
China will be launching satellites almost every other week starting next March. In one instance the gap in next year's frenetic schedule of launches will be only five days.
This year, through the end of September, China launched 29 satellites, more than any other nation. The U.S. was a close second with 27.
Beijing aims to widen its lead. Most observers worry that the Chinese regime is determined to get to the moon before U.S. astronauts return there, but another troublesome development is that China will quickly be filling up orbits with satellites.
With a presidential candidate who has not been all that communicative, Americans may want to think more about space policy. In short, there are growing concerns that a new administration will, with the best of intentions but an utter lack of common sense, hand space leadership to the Chinese.
Observers believe that, going forward, US space policy will not differ much from the current one. Yet a new administration could make crucial differences in emphasis that will have far-reaching consequences.
Take last December's establishment of the Space Force, the sixth branch of the American military. No one thinks anyone will reverse that long-delayed and much-needed move.
Yet American space warriors still worry. Brandon Weichert of The Weichert Report said in an interview with Gatestone that there might be a move to "staff the Space Force with people inimical to its mission."
Space Force's mission is to fight wars in space, but are all Americans fully committed?
Some believe the US space program should emphasize climate change research. If there is no overall increase in space spending, there will be less money for, among other things, defending American assets in space.
There are many American assets to defend. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists Satellite Database, the U.S. owned or operated 1,425 of the 2,787 satellites in orbit as of August 1.
This large lead — it was even larger last decade — convinced the Obama administration it was not wise to "militarize" space because the U.S. had so much more to lose should it trigger an arms race in the heavens.
President Obama's view sounds smart but was deeply mistaken because, among other things, it failed to take into account the fact that Beijing was already weaponizing the high ground. "China has been working hard to militarize space since the issuance of its '863 Program' of 1986," Rick Fisher of the Virginia-based International Assessment and Strategy Center told Gatestone. The 863 Program was followed by 1992's "Project 921," run by the General Armaments Department of the Central Military Commission. After the sweeping 2015 reorganization of the Chinese military, control of space ended up in the Commission's Armaments Development Department.
"Space was not then and is not now a weapons-free sanctuary, like Antarctica," Weichert, also the author of the just-released Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, said. As a result of Obama's flawed decision, the U.S. lagged in both developing weapons to kill other nations' satellites and devising methods to protect its own. "Even as Obama tied America's hands behind its back in space, the Russians and later the Chinese were developing robust counterspace capabilities," Weichert added.
America is therefore in many respects behind Russia and China in the ability to fight "over great distances at tremendous speeds, " as Space Force's General John Raymond said in September.
Moreover, there are other policy proposals that would degrade America's ability to defend itself. The Obama administration, for instance, announced in June 2010 a new policy stating the U.S. would "consider proposals and concepts for arms control measures if they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the United States and its allies." Unfortunately, there are many who still believe America can come to agreement with China.
Any such agreement, however, would be impractical. In space, almost everything has a dual purpose. Fisher, for instance, reports that China will put a laser on its upcoming space station for the announced purpose of eliminating space junk. Of course, such a laser is also capable of killing American satellites.
Other dual use items are Russia's co-orbital "Space Stalkers." In peacetime, they can be used to repair satellites. In wartime, Weichert says, "they can physically push U.S. satellites out of their orbits." That would render America's forces, and America itself, "deaf, dumb, and blind on land, at sea, in the air, and within cyberspace."
In any event, neither Russia nor China honors agreements, especially arms control treaties.
There is another disturbing policy approach for Americans to consider. The Obama administration, in May 2011, sought to enlist China as a partner in the exploration of Mars. Weichert reports Vice President Biden himself proposed joint NASA-China National Space Administration missions in orbit. "Of course," Weichert says, "this would have been simply the greatest tech transfer ever from the United States to China."
There is no such thing as purely "civilian" cooperation with China, which has a civil-military fusion policy. All technical research, pursuant to that policy, gets pipelined into the Chinese military.
So what is at stake? The next 9/11 will almost certainly occur in space.
Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China, a Gatestone Institute Distinguished Senior Fellow, and member of its Advisory Board.