China's affinity for moving fast and getting things done contributes significantly to technological and infrastructural development.
With a significant boost to its space program last year, China is ready to build on that progress and optimize efforts in 2022.
Everything Starts With Tiangong
On January 6, the Associated Press reported that the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) - China's main space contractor - has outlined plans to launch more than 40 flights this year.
Citing local news sources, the Associated Press explained that the CASC would focus on cargo and crewed flights for 2022, as well as the completion of China's very own space station.
As we would expect, the priority right now is the space station. Called Tiangong, it aims to be China's answer to the International Space Station. China cannot run research on the International Space Station due to diplomatic issues with the United States, so the country is looking to establish a clear presence in space.
The most essential part of Tiangong is already in space. Dubbed "Tianhe," the structure will house the space station's main living and working quarters. Launched back in April, Tianhe is the first of three separate compartments that will make up China's space station. The CASC plans to send the remaining two structures into orbit this year.
Progress on Tiangong has been impressive. Three Chinese astronauts already docked at the Tianhe station in October.
Becoming a Space Superpower
As part of its work on the space station, China also plans to launch docking and in-orbital missions this year - in addition to the Long March-6A carrier rocket, expected to make its first flight sometime during 2022.
The CASC has also outlined some of the missions it expects to conduct this year, including two Shenzhou crewed missions, two others involving the Tianzhou cargo vehicle, and more.
Wu Yansheng, CASC's chairman, reportedly said in the announcement:
"We need to fully complete various aerospace tasks, ensure the complete success of major flight test missions and accelerate the development of China as a space power."
China-U.S. Rivalry Officially Moves Into Space
China's ambitious goals also underscore what appears to be a changing of the guard. The United States has been the world's de facto leader in space explorations, but China's been keeping pace for a while now.
In 2021, China boasted 55 space launches, 48 handled by the CASC. This slightly edged the United States, with 51 launches throughout the year. Combined, the two countries made up 106 of the 145 space launches recorded worldwide in 2021.
With 55 launches, China beat its target of 40 launches, according to local reports.
China has invested massively in space programs. Before 2007, the country had never launched more than ten space missions annually. But it carried out a total of 152 launches in the past half-decade - more than any other nation. China first surpassed the United States in launch numbers in 2018, hitting 38 (to the United States' 34). It repeated the feat in 2019, scoring 32 launches compared to the United States' 21.
The United States got one up on China in 2020, with 44 launches compared to China's 39. Now that China is back on top, it's looking to stay there.
Of course, the United States has big plans of its own. The country remains the world's leader in space exploration and research programs, thanks in no small part to the growth of companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. With private aerospace contractors scoring military contracts and NASA missions, the United States is building a future where private and public space entities alike can push the agenda forward.
NASA's Artemis program seeks to return people to the moon - perhaps permanently. NASA is also collaborating with private firms to build a new space station to replace the International Space Station. With private companies leading the charge in missions to space, the United States' space efforts offer a lot to get excited about.