China Completes Space Station

On October 31st, China launched the final piece of its Tiangong space station, completing its orbital platform. This is the first new long term space station alongside the International Space Station (ISS) since Russia deorbited Mir in 2001. “This is important for the Chinese space program. The International Space Station won’t run for much longer. You may well end up with only one orbiting space station—the Chinese one,” says Fabio Tronchetti, a space law professor at Beihang University in Beijing and the University of Mississippi. Humans have been living on the ISS for 20 years, should that come to an end in the future, the US will be at a great disadvantage in terms of cutting edge research for terrestrial purposes as well as supporting research for future space missions. Tiangong is planed to last for 10 to 15 years with the possibility of an extended lifetime afterwards. The station is smaller, but more modern than the ISS and was assembled on its own in a short period of 1.5 years.

While NASA and the ISS depend heavily on partnerships with other countries and companies, China does not have dependencies and is heavily self sufficient. Furthermore NASA is prohibited from collaborating with China through the Wolf Amendment, passed by Congress in 2011, which prevents US agencies from working with Chinese companies and agencies due to perceived national security concerns. Ironically the inability to collaborate and work together on space missions may result in even more national security concerns from an adversarial relationship. As history shows, even rocky relationships such as Russia and the US can work together with a common goal and achieve something great. Having an open line of communication and working together on collaborative missions could result in a very different state of affairs than the current one today.

According to David Burbach, a national security affairs expert at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, Tiangong has no military purpose and is designed primarily to facilitate scientific research. However scientific advancements can easily funnel into military advantages and it also reenforces that the US and its allies no longer enjoy the lead and dominance they once had in space. China is just as capable as the US, has been executing missions at an amazing rate, and has similar lunar and Martian ambitions as the US. If the US ages out of the ISS and no longer has humans in space, the disadvantages could just be starting.

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