China is on path to 'militarization of space'
The Asian space race is moving along slowly, but steadily – and China is in the lead, with technology that could give it a military advantage over the US.
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A low orbit will allow for better scouting of future landing sites, said Lele. "They [the Chinese] will require huge amounts of data on landing grounds," said Lele. "A moon landing hasn't been attempted since the cold war."Skip to next paragraph
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During the famed 1969 Apollo 11 manned mission to the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong had to take control of the lander in the last moments of descent to avoid large moon boulders strewn around the landing site. China hopes to avoid any such last-minute surprises with better reconnaissance photos, which would allow them to see moon features such as rocks as small as one-meter across, according to Chinese media.
Is China's space exploration a military strategy?
Meanwhile, some have pointed out that China's moonshot, like all space programs, has valuable potential military offshoots. China's space program is controlled by the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which is steadily gaining experience in remote communication and measurement, missile technology, and antisatellite warfare through missions like Chang'e 2.
The security implications of China's space program are not lost on India, Japan, or the United States.
The Pentagon notes that China, through its space program, is exploring ways to exploit the US military's dependence on space in a conflict scenario – for example, knocking out US satellites in the opening hours of a crisis over Taiwan.
"China is developing the ability to attack an adversary's space assets, accelerating the militarization of space," the Pentagon said in its latest annual report to Congress on China's military power. "PLA writings emphasize the necessity of 'destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy's reconnaissance ... and communications satellites.' "
More broadly, some in the US see China's moon program as evidence that it has a long-range strategic view that's lacking in Washington. The US has a reconnaissance satellite in lunar orbit now, but President Obama appears to have put off the notion of a manned return to the moon.
With China slowly but surely laying the groundwork for a long-term lunar presence, some fear the US may one day find itself lapped –"like the tale of the tortoise and the hare," says Dean Cheng, an expert on China's space program at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "I have to wonder whether the United States, concerned with far more terrestrial issues, and with its budget constraints, is going to decide to make similarly persistent investments to sustain its lead in space."