Senior policymakers have had much to say lately about the overall health of the United States’ space industry, especially about those highly innovative and competitive mavericks helping to lead the way during the pandemic. Their latest efforts involve endless requests for information that in the end only amount to piles of paper. While this mindless cycle of drawing board strategy continues to keep the lights on in many Washington consultancies, it unfortunately falls short to improve U.S. space capability, promote American entrepreneurial innovation, or accelerate government timelines. Meanwhile China, our near-peer rival, advances and is now breathing down our neck in the race for space. Our feeble, lukewarm effort to “try” with information collation and analysis paralysis might maintain the status quo, but it almost certainly guarantees we fumble the opportunity our nascent commercial space industry has laid at our feet.
“Do or do not, there is no try.” We must prioritize “doing” over just “trying,” which has become the 21st century policy cop-out to appease a bipartisan base. Doing – be it rapidly producing, fielding, or launching real space systems – is what matters. While we have been “trying,” China has completely retooled to capitalize on space technology advances, and its leaders understand that the best way to win is by being proactive. While much of Washington has spent its precious time in tiresome semantic debates over naming conventions, street addresses, and iconography, China has been working to advance technologically, economically, and militarily.
In 2017, China amended its national intelligence law, which made information data produced or collected by any space entity – “private” or government – considered national intelligence and therefore property of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Such autocratic methods and restrictions on free enterprise, individual liberty, and justice represent an ideological adversary to America and the liberal international order installed post-WWII.
And a technologically competitive adversary at that, especially when one considers that China, despite its rigidity, still chases scientific and technological development with vigor. Deng Xiaoping’s Theory of Three Represents is a cultural staple in Chinese society and the basis for China’s scientific outlook on development. Relevant to the space industry, China’s “private” launch company has raised the funds necessary to complete their next generation smallsat launch system. Besides the investments being made, many in our community see China’s reusable space programs and its unusually similar nature to our own as evidence that outright intellectual property theft is on the table as well.
Unsurprisingly, China also continues to place great emphasis on its economic strength, powering through this global pandemic to come out ahead. Within the space industry in particular, China is ingratiating itself into space industries around the world through its seemingly benevolent HEAD Aerospace Group (HEAD). A member of the IAF since 2012, HEAD is working hard to partner with (and eventually edge out) leading Western aerospace firms.
China is equally as ambitious within the United States. The Defense Department’s most recent report indicates