What was once a competition between two superpowers has turned into a worldwide contest as countries around the world turn out to enter the new space race and take advantage of the developing cislunar economy.
From the UAE to Nigeria, more countries around the world are investing in national space programs, developing the technology to launch their own astronauts into orbit and competing to enter the cislunar economy.
The new space race has more to do with national prestige, however, than any real benefit to science. During the original space race, when Russia and the United States competed to be the first nation to put a man on the moon, the challenge had more to do with national pride than scientific breakthroughs.
China understands this. The country has devoted enormous national resources to its own space program recently and this year plans to conduct a record-breaking 30 launches including its first-ever cargo spacecraft.
China has already put two of its own space stations into orbit, although one will plummet uncontrollably to Earth this year. The country’s space program also has plans to build its own Hubble telescope, land a rover on the dark side of the moon, and send a robot to Mars.
While sitting a distant third place to Russia and the U.S., China is striving to become a major player in the space race and is thought to have devoted some $6 billion annually to reaching orbit, compared to America’s $40 billion a year.
Until SpaceX and Boeing finish building their rockets, it also remains one of only two countries on Earth capable of boosting astronauts into space and reaching orbit.
The country’s massive investment in space technology is more about national pride than developing orbital technology, however, as senior Heritage Foundation research fellow Dean Cheng told The Atlantic.
“It says something about what you can achieve that in turn is going to affect how countries view China when it comes to terrestrial issues, whether it’s border disputes, whether it’s building islands in the South China Sea, whether it’s Taiwan’s future.”
India is also gearing up to compete in the space race and it recently launched 104 satellites from one rocket. After the record-breaking launch, A S Kiran Kumar, head of the Indian Space Research Organization, boasted that his country was ready and willing to build its own space station high above Earth, according to the Times of India.
“We have all the capabilities to set up a space station. The day the country takes the decision; we will ‘ok’ the project. Just draw a policy and provide us necessary funds and time.”
The country’s focus on the smallsat market and their ability to launch multiple satellites aboard one rocket is quickly making them a favorite of the commercial space industry.
Meanwhile, Japan’s space program just launched its own military communications satellite and plans to land a rover on the moon’s surface by 2018, joining an elite club of spacefaring nations who have reached the lunar surface.
Nigeria might be the country with the most controversial space program; it’s been criticized for launching satellites while 70 percent of its citizens remain in poverty. The country’s space program is plunging ahead, however, and continues its plan to launch a man into space by 2030 while using their small fleet of satellites to track regional terrorists like Boko Haram, document local climate change, and update the nation’s outdated maps.
The United Arab Emirates, a nation of tiny fishing villages and Bedouin travelers turned futuristic city builders, has taken a long-term view of the space race and announced a 100-year plan to colonize Mars.
The tiny country of Luxembourg is also getting into the new space race and has become something of a sponsor for private commercial space programs including Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, both of which are set to become the world’s first interplanetary miners.
Turkey is also considering creating its own space agency with the goal of building their own spacecraft and constructing a spaceport to attract commercial partners.
With space once again the focus of humanity’s imagination, colonization of other planets might one day become a reality.
Who will win the world’s new space race?
[Featured Image by S. Corvaja/ESA/Getty Images]