Experts have warned that the ongoing space race could lead to war on Earth.
Several private companies, including Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, are planning missions on the moon. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is also joining the fray as he plans to launch a private crew on a tourism flight into lunar orbit. Firms from the U.S., Japan and Israel are likewise set to join the race to the moon.
South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, India and Russia also have planned robotic moon missions. Meanwhile, the EU has acknowledged its space race against the United Kingdom following the failure of the current Virgin Orbit mission to send seven satellites into orbit. Most prominent, however, is the rivalry between the U.S. and China – with both having ambitious lunar exploration programs that seek to land individuals on the moon.
Laura Forczyk, the executive director of Atlanta-based space consultancy Astralytical, remarked that competing space agencies and commercial companies are getting ready to launch and they all want definite strategic orbits and trajectories. She explained that the unexpected increase in space traffic is due to launch costs becoming inexpensive thanks to better technology and more competition driving down the price of launching objects into orbit.
Moreover, the existence of resources in space to aid human missions – whether it is ice deposits on the moon or precious metals in asteroids – only fuels the space race. In particular, water-ice could help maintain human colonies on the moon or be split into oxygen and hydrogen to fuel rockets.
“People started to realize that water-ice can provide substantial resources or enable the gathering or collection of resources elsewhere in the solar system,” said Marcus Holzinger, an associate professor of aerospace engineering sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Americans, Chinese engaged in space race
Forczyk also expounded on the space race between Washington and Beijing. She commented: “It might seem like space is big, but the specific orbits that we are most interested in get filled up fast. We’re already seeing this competing rhetoric between the U.S. government and the Chinese government.” (Related: China developing “killer satellites” and “directed energy weapons” to challenge US in space.)
“The U.S. is pointing to China and saying, ‘We need to fund our space initiatives to the moon and cislunar space because China is trying to get there and claim territory.’ And then Chinese politicians are saying the same thing about the United States.”
Back in 1967, 110 countries signed the Outer Space Treaty declaring the universe should be used to benefit all humankind with no one country able to claim or occupy it. More than 50 years later in 2020, the Artemis Accords set up non-binding multilateral deals between the U.S. and more than a dozen countries to maintain peaceful and transparent exploration of space.
In November 2022 the U.S. government issued its own strategy for inter-agency research on “responsible, peaceful and sustainable exploration and utilization of cislunar space.”
“Now we’re sort of seeing the rubber hit the road because all of a sudden there are potentially geopolitical interests or commercial interests. We have to maybe come up with a more nuanced approach,” Holzinger said.
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