How China could win 2021’s space race and take Mars as its prize

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China Mars Mission

Looking at its achievements over the past decade, nobody would doubt China is getting to win the new space race. Not only has been the sole country to land on the Moon in about 40 years and therefore the first to soft-land on its far side. It has also planted a flag on lunar soil and brought samples back to Earth.

The race between several nations and personal companies however is way from over. China is now approaching Mars with its Tianwen-1 mission thanks to arrive on February 10. A successful insertion into orbit the rover won’t land until May will mark another crucial milestone for quite one reason.

Mars could also be on the brink of Earth but it’s a challenging target. Nothing demonstrates this better than the figures. Out of 49 missions up to December 2020 only about 20 are successful. Not of these failures were attempts by newbies or early endeavors. In 2016 the ecu Space Agency’s Schiaparelli Mars Explorer crashed on the surface. Also ongoing technical issues have forced ESA and its Russian partner Roscosmos to postpone its next mission, ExoMars, until 2022.

China’s competitors.

China isn’t the sole country nearing Mars in this space race. On February 9 a UAE probe Hope will attempt an equivalent insertion maneuver. It’s not an immediate competitor to the Chinese mission (the probe will just orbit the earth to review the martian weather) but (NASA’s Perseverance rover) set to arrive every week later definitively is.

To further raise the stakes for China among the few countries that have managed the notoriously tricky insertion maneuver into orbit there’s one Asian country there already India China’s direct competitor in space but on Earth also .

The Indian Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) aka Mangalyaan reached Mars in 2014 the primary to form it at its maiden mission. This is often one reason why a successful outcome of Tianwen-1 is so important for China’s status because the new space power. It’s how to reassert its space dominance over its neighbor. Unlike India it’s not the primary time China has attempted a mission to Mars the previous one Yinghuo-1 in 2011 failed on launch. However on this occasion the chances for fulfillment look tons better.


Different countries have different development models when it involves space therefore the new space race is partly a contest for having the simplest approach. This reflects the precise character of the so-called time 2.0 which compared to the primary one looks more diverse and where non-US actors public and personal feature prominently especially Asian ones. If China leads the pack so does its vision.

Space Age 2.0

But there are bigger things at stake the event effort behind China’s space sector remains largely government-funded and military-led. Consistent with the US-China Economic and censoring Commission a congressional commission of the United States government China considers space as a “tool of geopolitical and diplomatic competition.” It’s clear that along side cyberspace the cosmos has become a fundamental new war fighting domain where the US is that the main but not the sole adversary. Meaning commercial considerations come second for several countries albeit they need become increasingly important within the overall scheme of things.

China has already enacted five-year plans for its space activities the newest of which led to 2020 with quite 140 launches. More missions are planned a replacement orbital space platform the retrieval of martian samples and a Jupiter exploratory mission among them.

While the resources committed by the country remain largely an unknown (we only know what’s included within the five-year plans) US estimates for 2017 put this figure at US$11 billion (£8 billion) second only to the US itself NASA’s allow an equivalent year was about US$20 billion (£15 billion).

Indian approach.

India has taken quite different approach, where civilian and commercial interests have long been predominant. Following NASA’s model of transparency the country publishes reports of its activities and therefore the annual spending (about US$1 billion yearly (£740,000) of its space agency the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

Different in ambitions, scope and investments the Indian program has achieved some remarkable successes. Like commercializing affordable launching services to countries wanting to send their own satellites into orbit. In 2017 India made history with the most important number of satellites 104 ever launched by a rocket on one mission to date about three foreign-owned and built (that record has only been beaten by SpaceX a couple of days ago with 143 satellites). Even more impressive is that the comparatively low cost of India’s Mars mission US$74 million (£55 million) about ten times less costly than NASA’s Maven mission. India’s prime minister Narendra Modi quipped that the entire mission cost but the Hollywood movie Gravity.

Due to geopolitical and rivalry concerns, this could be close to change. India’s government released its 2019-20 annual report, which shows a growing military involvement within the space sector. And another Moon and Venus missions are well on the Indian ISRO plans just in case the Chinese weren’t already motivated enough in making Tianwen-1 a powerful success. Space Race 2.0 is definitively warming up.

This article by Steffi Paladini Reader in Economics & Global Security Birmingham university is republished from The Conversation under an ingenious Commons license. Read the first article.

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