On 15 October 2003 China launched their first ‘taikonaut,’ the Chinese term for an astronaut, into space on the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft
This has been followed by further space exploration achievements, including an Earth-orbiting laboratory called Tiangong-1 and a lunar rover named Jade Rabbit.
But is it all a front to build anti-satellite technology? That’s what one expert warns we should be wary of, and not just from China, but Iran and North Korea as well.
In a paper called Dangerous Space Incidents, Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations explains how satellites could be under threat from the rising space exploration capabilities of certain nations.
Zenko points to the large amounts of assets held by the US in space that could be prone to attack.
These include satellites for national and global security.
‘The threats to US space assets are significant and growing,’ he writes, ‘as potential adversaries continue to pursue and could soon acquire counterspace capabilities.’
Given the high reliance of the US on satellites, he says the country needs to invest in mitigation measures in the event of an incident from one of a handful of protagonists.
‘Based on capabilities, intent and history of malicious or destabilising behaviour, the state most likely to undertake destabilising actions is China, followed by North Korea and Iran,’ Zenko continues.
As for Russia, though, the country ‘has not recently demonstrated intent to direct malicious and destabilising actions towards US space assets.’
The evidence for such motives can apparently be seen in previous rocket launches.
On 13 May 2013, for example, China launched a rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province.
It was, they say, a high-altitude scientific research mission.
But according to Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation and a former US Air Force space analyst it was actually a test of a new ballistic missile.
He says government sources indicated China tested a kinetic interceptor launched by a new rocket that could reach geostationary orbit about 22,500 miles (36,000 kilometres) above Earth, a region used by surveillance satellites.