I’ve previously written about the X-37B here, here, here, and here. The U.S. Air Force space plane recently landed, breaking space orbital endurance records. But as this Danger Room article points out, the international context of that record might be more important than many people think.
The Danger Room article says that although the U.S. Air Force is questioning whether the X-37B is cost effective (and Boeing might even shut down the facility where the space plane is assembled), “China is developing its own space plane called Shenlong — and apparently test-flew it for the first time in January last year.” China is moving faster into space than the U.S. originally predicted. So the U.S. plans for space may have to move faster in response.
Does this sound familiar? The U.S. amped up its space program after the Soviets launched Sputnik. However you feel about space and science, it was the Cold War that was a primary driver of U.S. efforts into space. Might China fill the gap left by our Soviet rivals becoming our Russian partners? Might China’s efforts to build a space plane and space station become the thing that launches a second space race?
It’s interesting to me, because China is undertaking these projects because they were excluded from other international efforts. Might the U.S. fund a mission to Mars as a consequence of this exclusion? Curiouser and curiouser. Might another space race be right around the corner? Keep an eye on the X-37B budget as well as any announcement of accelerating plans for a next-generation launch vehicle.