US Military Spaceplane Blasts Off on Secret Mission

    Photo: WIkimedia Commons

    The Facts

    • The US military's X-37B robot spaceplane took off from Florida on Thursday on a secretive mission. It was the first to be launched via a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, which is designed to transport the spaceplane to a higher orbit than was previously capable.

    • The X-37B can reach the geosynchronous orbit with the help of the Falcon rocket, more than 22K miles (35K kilometers) above the Earth. Previously, spaceplanes had been limited to flights in low-Earth orbit at altitudes below 1.2K miles (2K kilometers).

    The Spin

    Anti-China narrative

    The US is in a new space race with China, and the West should be worried. Beijing knows that controlling space would give them the ultimate upper hand, and the PRC is quietly but surely growing its arsenal of weapons. If the US underestimates China or fails to take the threat seriously, we risk outer space becoming a potential conflict zone.

    Pro-China narrative

    The Chinese space program isn't a threat to the US or any other nation. The PRC's exploration of the moon and space is dedicated to advancing humanity, not conquering the heavens. Public attacks on China's space program have become routine for NASA because the spurious threat of Beijing's own research makes a convenient justification for its funding requests to Congress.

    Narrative C

    A race implies there is actual competition between the US and China. The PRC may be making rapid advancements, but it will never be able to compete on the same level as the US. America, for one, has a drastically higher budget, more operational launch sites, and, crucially, a significant number of international and private collaborators. China has a long way to go if it wants a seat at the table.

    Nerd narrative

    There's a 15% chance that China will land the next person on the moon, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

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