China masking military space programmes as civilian, says Nasa chief

China masking military space programmes as civilian, says Nasa chief

Nasa chief Bill Nelson claimed on Wednesday that China was masking its military space objectives as civilian missions, warning the US not to let its “guard down”.

“We believe that a lot of their so-called civilian space programme is a military programme. And I think, in effect, we are in a race,” Mr Nelson said.

“China has made extraordinary strides, especially in the last 10 years, but they are very, very secretive,” he told lawmakers at Capitol Hill as he testified before the House appropriations committee on Nasa’s budget for fiscal 2025.

Both the US and China are planning to put astronauts back on the Moon.

Nasa hopes to achieve this via its Artemis 3 mission slated for some time in 2026 while China has set a goal to land humans on the lunar surface by 2030.

Troubled by funding delays and technological hurdles, Nasa has been forced to make several schedule changes to its Artemis missions in recent years.

With both countries planning missions to put boots on the Moon, Mr Nelson urged that the US should land before China.

If Beijing were to arrive at the Moon first, he claimed China could say, “‘Okay, this is our territory, you stay out.’”

“China has really thrown a lot of money at it and they’ve got a lot of room in their budget to grow. I think that we just better not let down our guard,” the Nasa chief added.

However, he expressed confidence that the US would not lose its competitive edge in space exploration.

Mr Nelson hoped Bejing would “come to its senses and understand that civilian space is for peaceful uses,” adding however that such an approach has not been “demonstrated by China.”

This is not the first time the Nasa chief has expressed concerns about China’s space missions.

He warned last year that geopolitical tensions between the US and China on Earth could extend to the Moon after the US Department of Defence published a 196-page report assessing the potential for a second space race.

“China is developing other sophisticated space-based capabilities, such as satellite inspection and repair. At least some of these capabilities could also function as a weapon,” the report stated.

“It is true that we better watch out that they don’t get to a place on the Moon under the guise of scientific research. And it is not beyond the realm of possibility that they say, ‘Keep out, we’re here, this is our territory,” Mr Nelson said last year.