Communist China is planning to double the size of its space station over the next several years. The plan is part of a larger effort to lure international space missions away from U.S.-led missions when NASA closes its International Space Station (ISS).
China plans to expand its station, the Celestial Palace, to six modules from three. The lifespan of the facility will also be increased to more than 15 years from 10 years.
The Celestial Palace reached full operational status late last year and currently hosts three astronauts. Even after the expansion, however, the Celestial Palace will be about half as large as the ISS and won’t host as many astronauts simultaneously.
The ISS has been in orbit since 1998 and is expected to be decommissioned sometime around 2030. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which rules China as a single-party state, has claimed that it’ll become a “major space power” at about that time.
The China Academy of Space Technology, a unit within the CCP primary space contractor, announced the plan at an astronautical forum in Azerbaijan on Oct. 4.
The announcement follows several claims by Chinese state-owned media last year that “several countries” had already reached out to the CCP in the hopes of being included in future missions to the station.
Despite this, the European Space Agency stated earlier in the year that it didn’t have the budgetary or political approval to green-light the involvement of European astronauts in missions to China’s station.
Similarly, the United States has banned any official collaboration between NASA and China’s space program.
Space Competition Raises Security Concerns
Space is becoming an increasingly important part of the ongoing competition between the United States and the CCP. That’s particularly true when it comes to gray-zone conflict, in which the two nations engage in hostilities stopping somewhere short of kinetic warfare.
To that end, retired Gen. David Thompson, then the U.S. Space Force’s vice chief of space operations, said in 2021 that the CCP was attacking U.S. space infrastructure “every single day.”
These reversible attacks, in which U.S. satellite architecture or cyber systems are compromised temporarily, have largely been seen as China’s preparation for a real war.
Similarly, the regime is conducting research and development of capabilities that could dismantle space-based U.S. infrastructure, upon which its navigation and missile defense systems are built.
The CCP has itself stated that it’s on a mission to become the global leader in space exploration, technology, and law-making, according to an official white paper released earlier in the year.
“In the next five years, China will integrate space science, technology, and applications while pursuing the new development philosophy, building a new development model, and meeting the requirements for high-quality development,” the report reads.
“It will start a new journey toward space power.”
The use of the Celestial Palace as a means of projecting soft power is therefore an important aspect of the CCP’s attempts to dismantle U.S. influence and values internationally by projecting an image of the socialist regime as an alternative to U.S. liberal democratic leadership.
Reuters contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times