The Chinese government, it seems, is embarking on a billion-dollar space programme, one which has alarmed the USA, forcing Washington to speak out. Kenya used to be a USA economic ally but has since reduced its American engagement since 2014. borrowing money from China, for Kenyan projects, and gradually fulfilling its economic obligations to the USA.
The US space agency, NASA on Wednesday warned that Beijing was using the new space deal with Kenya to undercut Washington and other foreign launch and satellite providers in the international market. NASA Chief, Jim Bridenstine, while appearing before US Congress on Wednesday warned the US lawmakers that US space supremacy is at risk in the face of the planned Chinese space station that involves Kenya and that Beijing hopes will be operational by 2022.
A space station is a spacecraft capable of supporting a human crew in orbit for an extended period of time. The special vessels are mostly used for scientific purposes, including studying climate change but military applications are also possible.
The International Space Station (ISS) is the only one of its kind and is the product of collaboration between state agencies from the USA, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada. The ISS is expected to be decommissioned by 2030, with plans to launch a replacement in partnership with private sector players.
China, however, has started working on building its own space station with help from scientists in multiple countries, including Kenya, to participate in its programme. Others are France, Germany, Japan and Peru, according to Xinhua news agency.
But the US space agency believes Beijing is using its space programme to advance its terrestrial geopolitical objectives, including cultivating customers for the Belt and Road Initiative (a global infrastructure development), while also using diplomatic ties to advance its goals in space. NASA says Beijing aims to establish an expanding network of overseas space ground stations with countries like Kenya in order to establish a leading position in the economic and military use of outer space through such partnerships.
This is expected to see – according to NASA – the deepening of reliance on Beijing’s allies like Kenya on China’s space-based services.
“China is rapidly building what they call the ‘Chinese International Space Station’, and they’re rapidly marketing that space station to all of our international partners,” Bridenstine was quoted saying by news agency AFP.
“It would be a tragedy, if, after all of this time, and all of this effort, we (US) were to abandon low Earth orbit and cede that territory.”
The US has been uncomfortable with the rise of China, which is now using its position as the second-largest economy to expand and fortify its military, geographic and technological presence.