How the United States was mugged in space by China

Beijing appears to have pulled off a massive out-of-this-world heist to become a space superpower

Fears are growing that American space technology is being sucked into a massive Chinese blackhole.

At the weekend, state-run China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation announced that a suborbital spacecraft had returned to earth after flying to the edge of the atmosphere.

“The development of reusable space transportation technology is an important symbol of China’s transition from a ‘big’ space-faring nation to a ‘powerful’ space-faring one,” CASC said in a statement, adding that the craft landed “horizontally.”

Analysts have speculated that Beijing is trying to match the X-37B, a United States Air Force robotic space plane. Earlier “evidence” has also surfaced of China’s top-secret project.

“There is evidence that this new space [craft] by China went into orbit, made a few [revolutions], deployed a small satellite, and then landed at a military base,” Brian Weeden, of the Secure World Foundation, said during a discussion hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Besides that, we don’t really know anything about it,” Weeden, the director of program planning for the non-profit organization that focuses on secure and sustainable uses of outer space, added as reported by National Defense.

Final frontier:

  • China has ramped up its space program, landing scientific rovers on the dark side of the Moon and Mars this year. 
  • The next step is likely to be a planned mission to Jupiter. 
  • A launch date has yet to be announced.
  • Last month, a Long March rocket with a three-man crew blasted off for a rendezvous with an orbiting module.
  • The core component of China’s new space station will be home to the astronauts for the next two months.

Hush, hush: “While no images or further details [of the spacecraft] were revealed, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation issued a short statement, saying ‘this is too advanced to put on display’,” state-run Global Times reported. 

Space heist: China has a track record of stealing space technology. A report released back in 2015 by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission illustrated the scale and depth of Beijing’s operation.

Cyber attacks: “In 2012, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin stated that cyberattacks from Chinese IP addresses had resulted in the perpetrators gaining full access to key Jet Propulsion Laboratory [computer] systems and sensitive user accounts,” the study revealed.

I spy: “Such information could have assisted the Chinese space program in the development of its lunar rover, sensing technology such as infrared sensors and synthetic aperture radar, and the control of deep space missions,” the report concluded. 

Delve deeper: China’s rapid rise as a space power comes at a time when the country is still struggling to launch its first commercial flight of the “home-grown” C919 passenger jet, despite four years of test flights.

What was said: “The C919 was built with American and European help. Only 14 of the aircraft’s 82 suppliers are Chinese,” Scott Kennedy, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said as reported by the AFP news agency in June.

Big picture: To put that into perspective, the wings and fuselage are Chinese. But domestic manufacturers have yet to master the skills of building engines or airplane electronics.

China Factor comment: Remarkable, then, that the ruling Communist Party’s orchestrated space program has now thrown up an X-37B space clone. Or is it?