Asia`s year in space triggers applause but also worry

The past 12 months will be remembered as the year when Asia`s economic powerhouses barged their way into the elite club of spacefarers.

AFP| Last Updated: Dec 18, 2013, 12:29 PM IST

Paris: The past 12 months will be remembered as the year when Asia`s economic powerhouses barged their way into the elite club of spacefarers.

South Korea placed its first satellite in orbit, Japan launched a new three-stage rocket and India set its eyes on Mars, dispatching its first scout to the Red Planet.

Heading the pack in 2013, though, was China. It carried out another manned trip as a prelude to assembling a space station by 2020, announced plans to launch an orbital laboratory around 2015 and sent a rover to the Moon, in mankind`s first "soft" lunar landing in 37 years.

Analysts say the long string of feats reflects the growing financial clout and prowess of Asia`s foremost economies.

But they also sound a note of caution. Alarm bells are starting to ring in the established but cash-strapped space powers, and a dangerous intra-Asian rivalry in space could lie ahead.

Militarisation of space, rather than damaged prestige or injured pride, is the biggest worry, they say.

Russian analyst Vadim Lukashevich said Russia, after helping China in its space development a dozen or so years ago, had "badly under-estimated" the Chinese programme.

There was a tendency among Russian experts to joke that China`s exploits were almost a carbon copy of the Soviet glory era half a century ago.

US expert John Logsdon, professor emeritus at the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said the United States fretted over what lay beneath China`s much-trumpeted civilian activities in space.

"This country is very concerned about China`s growing military space capabilities, since they could threaten the ability of the United States to operate its national security space systems free from threat of interference," said Logsdon.

"I would imagine that Europe and Russia have the same concern."

They are not the only ones looking anxiously at China.

"I think that China has provoked a major space race in Asia," said Morris Jones, an independent space analyst based in Australia.

"You`ve got India watching what the Chinese do very carefully. You`ve also recently had the fact that even the South Koreans have accelerated plans."

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, at India`s Observer Research Foundation, said India had to respond to the "inherently destabilising" show of anti-satellite weapons by China.

"While India has reiterated its policy of opposing weaponisation of outer space, it has had to factor in the advanced nature of military space capabilities in its neighbourhood.

"Accordingly, India launched its first dedicated military satellite (for the Indian Navy) this year in August," she said.