China launched the world’s first methane fuelled space rocket. Zhuque-2 carrier rocket blasted off at 9 am on Wednesday,12 July from Jiuquan satellite launch center in North West China’s Inner Mongolia. Successful launching of this 1st methane – liquid oxygen space rocket into orbit once again put China ahead of US space companies like Space X and blue origin. This news once again put China’s rivals into cut-throat competition with Beijing. It put Elon Musk’s Space X and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin in the race for new technological escalation to develop space vehicles fuelled by methane. Its first attempt failed in December but China kept doing work on it. The US also tried to launch its methane-powered rocket Terran 1 but failed. The US failure enhanced the haughtiness of China. On the other hand, the successful launching of Zhuque- 2 put the US in a race for space dominance with China.
The space competition between US and China has the great potential to distort the international world order. It is noted that the countries that have been technologically advanced have held more power and they had greater ability to influence the remaining part of the world.
It is better to say that competition between the major powers is actually a thirst for more influence and a craving for dominance. The militarization of space could lead to severe tensions between countries, especially China and US. Significant advancements in space technology by both China and US led to a shift in power dynamics. Now the launch of a new methane-fuelled rocket by China once again significantly proclaims the rise of the new space race between the US and China. China’s successful launch of the ZHEGUE 2 rocket is evidence of an emerging landscape where Beijing is directly competing with the US for strategic supremacy.
Methane fuelled rocket is more beneficial than traditional rockets. This rocket is going to help China in several ways. Firstly, it will reduce the cost of space missions as methane is most cost-effective than other rocket fuels. It will also reduce the environmental impact as methane is a more sustainable fuel than other rocket fuels. They have the ability to enable more ambitious space missions. This will help China to accomplish new scientific discoveries in space as it has the potential to explore the far reaches of our solar system and to make sure of human presence on other planets. It will make space exploration more accessible and affordable. This is one of the biggest recent achievements of China that is somehow terrifying the US as they failed to build the same rocket like Terran -1.
Due to this space rivalry and race for technology, there are significant economic implications. China and US both are investing hugely in space technology due to which it is expected that the space industry will grow very much in the coming years.
US and China are two main pillars in this industry and the competition between these two powers would lead to some new space developments and also the creation of jobs in this space market.
The global space economy could be worth over $1 trillion by 2040, according to the estimations of some experts. We can see some positive economical impacts due to this competition that is indirectly enhancing their power. For example, both countries are investing in space tourism, which could become a possible source of revenue for both countries. Virgin Galactic is a US company that is already promoting space tourism as they have sold tickets for sub-ocular space flights. Negative economic implications could also have seen in this competition. The arms race in space could lead to the evolution of unnecessary high–cost weapons systems. Space debris will definitely be created that will destroy the satellites and space infrastructure.
Besides these economic implications, there must be some societal implications regarding this debate. As both powers also possess allies and the support of many other countries, what are the concerns of these countries especially the third-world countries matter a lot? The development of space tourism would have social and cultural impacts so these impacts should be managed carefully and it should involve the perspective of other countries as they are part of this society. If we look at third-world countries, this competition brings opportunities and challenges for them at the same time economic opportunities are there for these countries as they would become the suppliers of components for the space industry. This race may cause exploitation of resources for third world countries.
The US-China competition reflects a critical pinch in the history of the space race. Policymakers should carefully consider the risks associated with this competition as it should be a source of innovations, peace, and progress for the coming generations rather than destruction.
The writer is an expert in strategic affairs and graduated from Quaid e Azam University, Islamabad.