The race to conquer space is real – and the United States could lose to China if we don’t act now.
We know that China continues to work to consolidate opposition to the U.S. through its alliances with Iran, Russia, and North Korea. Just last week, the president of China met with the president of Iran to continue to foster their relationship. This is a slap in the face to the U.S. given that Tehran was—a few days prior—directly implicated in the attack on two tankers. And with China’s aggressive actions at sea, it’s only a matter of time before there is a battle for dominance in the final frontier: space.
As the U.S. and China begin developing more advanced spacefaring technology, the increased international tension creates the distinct possibility that China and the United States are locked in another space race.
China’s threat to dominating space is real. Recently, China managed to land a rover on the dark side of the moon. The country even has a plan in place to develop a permanent Chinese colony by the year 2030.
A 2019 report from the Defense Intelligence Agency notes that China views space as essential to modern warfare and as a weapon to reduce America’s military effectiveness. The report also indicates that America’s perceived advantage within the domain will drive China to improve its spacefaring capabilities and operations.
All this means that the United States must be at the top of its game to stay ahead of China technologically. Our best tool for this is the Air Force program called the Launch Service Agreement (LSA).
The LSA program is the Air Force’s program designed to establish America’s spacefaring technology by utilizing private aerospace companies to develop a variety of domestic launch platforms. The idea is to get the best and brightest to create the most cutting-edge, efficient technology and put it to work for our national security.
The Air Force has insisted that the program must remain on schedule and failing to do so could harm America’s national security interests. That seems to be common sense, given the threat America faces from China and their aggressive stance against the U.S.
Inexplicably, the program has faced political resistance from the likes of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith. Why would the congressman leading the House Armed Services Committee oppose the LSA? It certainly is not in the interest of national security for the programs to be delayed. The short answer: cronyism.
Smith is an ally of SpaceX, the brainchild of Elon Musk. SpaceX submitted a proposal for Phase 1 of the LSA program but was not selected by the Air Force because the proposal did not meet minimum specifications.
Even Elon Musk admitted that SpaceX’s LSA proposal missed the mark, but Chairman Smith has still pushed for the LSA program to undergo intensive and cumbersome political investigations, thus delaying America’s efforts to stay ahead of the technology race.
Now, SpaceX has taken efforts to delay the LSA program one step further, filing a lawsuit against the United States government. While Rep. Smith is working to pass legislation to give Musk’s company an advantage in the LSA competition, SpaceX registered an official complaint against the U.S. Air Force for its handling of the LSA program. Within the complaint, SpaceX alleges that the Air Force wrongly awarded launch contracts to its competitors rather than to SpaceX itself.
While the suit is unlikely to hold up in court, it does mire the program in time-consuming litigation. Indeed, the lawsuit places the LSA into a position where it could be forced to stall, awaiting a legal resolution to the issue. All the while, China’s power in the domain of space only grows stronger.
These attempts to interfere with the Launch Service Agreement are devastating for America’s national security. As detailed by Dr. Loren Thompson, president of the Lexington Institute, these tactics could compromise America’s access to orbits critical to national security, increasing costs, and furthering the United States’ reliance on foreign rocket engines. That is music to China’s ears because every American misstep is an opportunity for them to consolidate their power in space.
The threats from China in the space race are too significant to allow politics and cronyism to slow the U.S. down in establishing domestic launch alternatives and other advanced technologies that will protect our national security. China has shown time and time again that it is no ally to the United States. As such, America must take action to curb the growing influence of China, both internationally and extra-terrestrially. Currently, the Air Force’s Launch Service Agreement is America’s best bet to do so, and the program shouldn’t be obstructed for solely political gain.