The U.S. might be celebrating the impending launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) moon rocket and the serial successes of the James Webb Space Telescope, but according to at least some experts, there’s a potential skunk at the cosmic picnic: China. As Defense One reports, a new analysis conducted by experts from the Space Force, Air Force, Defense Innovation Unit, and more have concluded that, when it comes to playing the long game in space, Beijing may have the U.S. beat.
For starters, there is China’s militarization of space activities. The country’s space program has mastered the ability to rendezvous one satellite with another in orbit, allowing for close-up kills, either by destroying an enemy satellite with a projectile or blinding its optics with lasers. It is also developing jamming and other cyber capabilities.
China’s space station goals also worry analysts. Currently, Beijing is building a small, three-module station in low-Earth orbit. While the outpost is modest compared to the 16-module International Space Station (ISS), China is working toward establishing a permanent space station presence. Meanwhile, the aging ISS is scheduled to be shut down and de-orbited no later than 2030.
Finally, the authors of the report worry about American politics. Over the past 18 years, U.S. goals for crewed exploration of deep space have changed repeatedly—with the moon or an asteroid or Mars or some combination of those destinations on the itinerary depending on who was sitting in the Oval Office. China’s autocratic government—while not a thing to be envied—at least has the advantage of picking out a destination and sticking with it. Currently, Beijing is looking to have astronauts on the moon in the 2030s—with no deviation from those plans foreseen. Without such a “North Star vision,” as the authors of the report put it, the U.S. is likely to cede its primacy in space to China by 2045.
This story originally appeared in TIME Space, our weekly newsletter covering all things space. You can sign up here.
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