China's Tiangong Space Station and US National Security Interests

Dr. E.C. Beuck

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China launched its Wentian space laboratory on Sunday afternoon, sending the country's largest-ever spacecraft to Earth's orbitPhoto by Zhu Xingxin/chinadaily.com.cn

On Sunday, July 24th, China launched its Wentian space laboratory into space. The largest-ever spacecraft that China has sent into Earth’s orbit, the laboratory being carried brings the Tiangong space station one step closer to completion. As soon as the Wentian space laboratory rendezvous and docks with the Tiangong station’s Tianhe core module, the Shezhou XIV mission crew on the station will enter the new lab module to check its international equipment and overall condition after the launch into space.

The new Wentian space laboratory, once connected and assessed, will be the first lab component of the Tiangong station, featuring cutting-edge technologies that will allow the members of the China Manned Space Program to conduct science experiments in space. Though at completion the Tiangong Space Station will be roughly the size of the decommissioned Russian Mir space station, and only about one-fifth of the size of the international space station, as the first Chinese long-term space station project it is a massive step forward for the China Manned Space Program. Exciting research dealing with spacecraft rendezvous technology, efforts to improve human operations with an aim to allow permanent ones in orbit, and work on creating regenerative life support technology will all be occurring aboard the space station along with numerous other research projects.

While progress in these projects will represent major steps forward for human space exploration, threat assessments by US intelligence agencies have portrayed the development of the Tiangong Space Station as representing the next step in the Chinese government’s efforts “to match or exceed US capabilities in space to gain the military, economic, and prestige benefits that Washington has accrued from space leadership” while others have portrayed its creation as part of a “new space race” that might endanger US national security interests, and echoing these thoughts a NASA administrator has warned against China's moon program in the past as well.

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Holding a PhD in Political Science, I write about current events and on political topics related to international relations, international law, conflict both between and within states, and the interactions between technology and politics.

Washington, DC
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