U.S. must invest to keep ahead of China in space, hearing told

(Reuters) – China’s space program is catching up with that of the United States and Washington must invest in military and civilian programs if it is to remain the world’s dominant space power, a congressional hearing heard on Wednesday.

Experts speaking to Congress’s U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said China’s fast advances in military and civilian space technology were part of a long-term strategy to shape the international geopolitical system to its interests and achieve strategic dominance in the Asia-Pacific.

They also reflect an enthusiasm for space exploration which in the United States has faded since the Apollo Program which landed Americans on the moon in 1969, they said.

” right now is experiencing its Apollo years,” Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, told the hearing. “China gets the funding its needs.”

While the budget of the U.S. space agency NASA has been cut substantially, China’s space program has benefited from its economic boom and political support from President Xi Jinping down, said Kevin Pollpeter, a China technology expert at the University of California-San Diego.

“They are also able to program out their activities into five-year plans and 15-year plans and this gives them a long-range goal to work with,” he told the hearing.

“If the United States is to remain the leading space power then it must continue to invest in both its civilian and military space programs.”

Dean Cheng, of the Heritage Foundation think tank, said the U.S. space industrial complex is failing in long-term planning and is aging compared to China’s. It is particularly lacking in Chinese speakers with the scientific skills needed.

“China’s space industrial workforce is perhaps the youngest of the space industrial powers,” Cheng added. “They will be working at this for a long time. Innovation at the end of the day does tend to come from young people.”

Xi has said he wants China to establish itself as a space superpower, but Beijing has insisted its program is for peaceful purposes.

Fears of a space arms race mounted in 2007 after China blew up one of its own weather satellites with a ground-based missile.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Christian Plumb)