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China Expands Space Program: A New Era in Global Space Competition

In recent years, China’s space programme has gained significant traction, with several high-profile projects entering public discourse. As the race between China and the US to dominate space technology intensifies, China continues to develop ambitious plans for its Tiangong space station, a new launch site for its vehicles, and a satellite constellation to rival SpaceX’s Starlink.

The Tiangong station forms a key part of China’s aspirations for a permanent human presence in Earth orbit, following its exclusion from the International Space Station (ISS) due to American concerns over links between China’s space initiatives and the People’s Liberation Army. Chinese astronauts have already executed spacewalks to upgrade and maintain the station, while plans to expand Tiangong with a multifunctional module aim to increase its capacity and accommodate new spacecraft, including commercial and tourist ventures.

In addition to the space station, China is developing a sophisticated space telescope named Xuntian, featuring a main mirror over 2 meters in diameter, offering a field of view 300 times greater than the Hubble Space Telescope. The Xuntian telescope will ultimately be co-located with Tiangong, allowing for convenient maintenance and upgrades.

Furthermore, China is constructing its first commercial launch site for space vehicles in Wenchang, Hainan province. The facility is slated for completion in 2023, with regular missions commencing in 2024. Wenchang’s strategic location near the equator provides a unique economic advantage for launches.

Another significant project is the “GW” constellation, which aims to deploy nearly 13,000 satellites to low Earth orbit (LEO), directly competing with SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. Associate Professor Xu Can of the People’s Liberation Army’s Space Engineering University in Beijing has confirmed these ambitious plans, with the “GW” constellation consisting of 12,992 satellites belonging to the newly established China Satellite Network Group Co.

As China continues to expand its space sector, its advances pose a considerable threat to both the US and private American companies such as SpaceX. The ongoing modernisation and development of China’s space infrastructure however require time and persistence.

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