Europe and China’s Space Rift

Shenzhou-15 astronauts Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu send spring festival greetings from China’s Tiangong space station.
Xinhua via Getty Images

Europe and China’s Space Rift

The European Space Agency (esa) announced on January 23 that it no longer intends to send astronauts to China’s Tiangong space station. This sparked great discontent in Asia. Since the 1980s, esa has cooperated with China and helped enable its space program, which is considered a threat to the United States. The recent rift comes amid Russia’s war on Ukraine and rising tensions between the U.S. and China.

In 2022, U.S. experts from the Space Force, Air Force and Defense Innovation Unit warned that China was on track to win the space race with potentially fatal military consequences for America. In this context, Nina Armagno, director of staff of the U.S. Space Force, warned: “[China] is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to achieve that objective.”

Part of the reason why China poses such a grave threat is because of its cooperation with Europe.

In 2020, the German Aerospace Center and the Chinese Aeronautical Establishment celebrated 40 years of close cooperation. Through the work of the esa, Germany also greatly contributed to China’s space program. Germany not only offered expertise but also directly supported China’s missions. In 2021, German Prof. Robert F. Wimmer-Schweingruber received the 2020 Beijing Science and Technology Award for his contribution to the Chinese mission to the moon, Chang’E 4.

Germany thus has been a crucial player in China’s race to space. And China is far from the first nation the Germans have assisted in this way. German scientists not only started the space race during World War ii, but also enabled its continuation.

Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, shocked the world. The race had begun and the Russian dictatorship appeared to be winning. Behind Sputnik were German scientists who had worked on the German V-2 rocket program during World War ii. The Soviet Union had recruited them for their space mission. A large part of the reason why the U.S. won the space race in the end is because it used more German scientists more effectively. While German scientists contributed to the development of Sputnik indirectly, Wernher von Braun, Nazi Germany’s key rocket scientist, directly designed the rocket that brought the first Americans to the moon.

China’s space program is threatening U.S. dominance. But we also have to consider the nation that enabled the space race. This recent cooperation gives Germany an opportunity to enter the space race with tremendous potential.

In 2020, Estrack, a network of ground stations run by the European Space Agency, was tracking China’s lunar spacecraft to support its mission. At the time, Pier Bargellini, who heads esa’s Ground Facilities Operations Division, noted: “Europe is now active in trying to have missions to the moon—the moon is the focus of exploration for esa, the Americans and many others. So we are learning a lot about tracking spacecraft around the moon.”

The recent rift between Europe and China may just be temporary, but it could also give rise to a more intense focus on Europe’s own space program.

Since the early days of the Cold War, analysts have agreed that whoever controls space controls the Earth. Yet the very nation that started and enabled the space race, and that twice attempted a global takeover in the 20th century, is overlooked as a potential threat. We at the Trumpet do not overlook that threat. To understand why we closely watch Germany, request a free copy of Germany and the Holy Roman Empire.

Germany descends from ancient Assyria. While the Bible reveals that this nation will use its abilities for great evil in the near future, it also reveals great hope. In “A Nation Worth Applauding” in the September 2011 Trumpet, Ryan Malone wrote: “The Hebrew word Assyria literally means ‘step,’ implying success or progress. This will be a more fitting name for the ‘German’ (man of war) in a time when people will no longer ‘learn war any more’ (Isaiah 2:4). The Assyrians will continue to be industry leaders in the fields of manufacturing and creative endeavors, using those skills, not to build tools of destruction, but to turn weapons into instruments of development and cultivation (verse 4).”