China launched a grand total of 55 satellites in the year 2021, breaking all previous records of total satellite launches globally. The first and most intriguing question that arises from this achievement is, what is China aiming to do using all these satellites being launched into space so frequently, and why is the government being so secretive about it? To understand and analyze the situation, we must look into how China has conducted its satellite launches in contemporary times, and what information it has released publicly.
What were the significant spacecraft launches by China in 2021?
The last satellite released in 2021 was a Communication Technology Demonstrator 9, into a geosynchronous orbit, launched on top of a classic Long March 3B rocket. (More on the Long March series rockets here.)
The first wave of astronauts going for China’s under-construction space station had been the most anticipated launch in 2021. The Chinese space station, dubbed Tiangong (which means “Heavenly Palace”), is planned to accommodate at least three astronauts for long-duration missions and six for shorter stays.
This year, Beijing launched numerous rockets to build the world’s second zero-gravity floating outpost, following the International Space Station. The Tianzhou-2, called the “delivery boy,” was launched by the China National Space Administration and bonded with the space station barely eight hours after launch, making it one of the quickest dockings ever.
While Chinese innovation in space will be recognized, errors will not go forgotten. Earlier this year, an erratically falling Long March 5B rocket put people’s lives and property in peril.
China has fresh plans for 2022 now that 2021 is over. From sending probes to the Moon to collaborating with Russia on a lunar research facility, China’s power in space, which has been dominated by the United States, will be bolstered by the completion of its under-construction space station. Meanwhile, its rover is already on Mars, and Beijing is planning to launch a mission to Jupiter and Saturn. (More on China’s Lunar Mission here.)
What does China want to accomplish using these satellites?
The official claims by the CNSA and government of China have been that these satellites are being used to study the space in-depth, to facilitate the future mission. However, the high security surrounding the satellites and their launch, like no schematics or images of the satellites being made public, has led to widespread speculation that the true purpose of these satellites is something else. Specifically, many believe that the satellites are equipped for electronic reconnaissance; that is, they may be eavesdropping on communications around the world.
Speculators and theory crafters say that it is highly probable that China, with the numerous satellite launches every year, is slowly vying for control of communication channels globally, and keeping tabs on its rivals, both economically and militarily. And China, with its very stringent information, media, and corporate control, really has the ability to do so and still keep everyone looking for answers blinded, for much longer periods and still end up covering their tracks.
It is evident that China has reached its current technological position by extensively studying its opponent’s technology, copying it, and then refining it to make better and improved versions of it. Under pretense of this heightened “research and development”, China is consecutively launching numerous secretive space missions.
Conclusion: Impact on the global scenario
China‘s space program is not the only country conducting space missions secretively under false proclamations and motives. NASA and ROSCOSMOS also have done similar launches and experiments in space. The Russian Space program also tends to keep most of its projects a secret, and only reveals its successes, turning them into propaganda.
The current rate of technological advancements in the space satellite field could lead to slowly rising tensions between various superpowers, eventually leading to a “never before seen” kind of space warfare that could be triggered just by simple satellite maneuvers. (Learn more about the recent Chinese display of satellite maneuver here.)