This article appeared in my October 1, 2020 op-ed column at The Washington Times.
In November, a Chinese space mining startup, Origin Space, will launch the world’s first space mining robot into Earth orbit (designated NEO-1). Once in orbit, NEO-1 will perform a series of tests to ensure it works properly. This proof-of-concept is the first of its kind and, if successful, will pave the way for China’s budding space mining industry to take flight.
It is believed that the world’s first trillionaire will come from the space mining industry. Following the launch of NEO-1, Origin Space plans to place a small observation satellite, Yuanwang-1 (or “Little Hubble”), in Earth orbit next year to search for mineable asteroids. Beijing has identified space mining as new strategic industry that China must dominate in order to fulfill President Xi Jinping’s goal of making the People’s Republic of China the world’s hegemon by 2049.
For President Xi to realize his “China Dream” of global domination by 2049, China has embraced what I refer to as The Field of Dreams mentality when it comes to high-tech innovation and space dominance: If you build it, they will come. By building the world’s first viable space mining companies and creating the infrastructure needed to support long-range space operations, Beijing believes that it can woo foreign talent and investment away from the United States and into China. There is reason to believe that Beijing’s assumptions are correct.
The United States has possessed the ability to venture into space and mine the various celestial bodies for decades. Yet, until the Trump administration came along, America failed to exploit space in the way that China intends to. A succession of American leaders, Democrat and Republican alike — including former Vice President Joe Biden — allowed for America’s advantages in space to erode. Now, China’s NEO-1 test scheduled for November is yet another example of how rapidly China has caught up to the indolent United States in space.
If China is to maintain its prosperity while also becoming the center of a high-tech industrial revolution, China must possess a monopoly on Rare Earth Minerals. Rare Earths are vital for the creation of advanced technology. Without these minerals, modern computers, smartphones, batteries for electric cars and other accoutrements we’ve all become used to in our daily lives would disappear.
We would return to a pre-1970s lifestyle that few are prepared to endure. The moon and asteroids of our solar system are full of Rare Earth Minerals. Should Beijing gain exclusive access to the bountiful, untapped source of these Rare Earth Minerals in space, China would have unprecedented economic and, therefore, strategic advantages over the United States and its allies.
The election in November will, therefore, have otherworldly ramifications: If Mr. Biden wins the presidency, it is likely that he will undo much of the progress the United States has made both in its military and civilian space programs under Mr. Trump’s leadership. A Biden administration will cede the strategic high ground to Red China and the destiny of mankind will be written in Mandarin.
The China threat in space is the most serious challenge to America’s superpower status in decades. The United States, under Mr. Trump’s leadership, is only just now starting to respond to this challenge. The U.S. Space Force was created as the newest branch of the U.S. armed forces to protect American satellites in space and ensure American access to space in times of crisis. Mr. Trump has reconstituted the White House Space Council and called for a return of Americans to the moon, while actively planning to place Americans on Mars by the end of the decade.
What’s more, Mr. Trump understands what America could lose by not gaining access to the lucrative space mining market as soon as possible. The White House has, therefore, drafted guidelines that would allow for private sector space mining to occur — all of this as China continues its own long march to the stars.
Losing access to space because China took it first would be akin to ceding the Wild West to the British or Spanish Empires two centuries ago. It would be the end of the United States as the most powerful country in the world, and it would allow for the totalitarian Chinese Communist Party to dictate the future of humanity. Mr. Trump is the only leader who understands this. Time is not on America’s side and failure to elect a leader who recognizes this will doom the United States to a second-tier status on Earth. America must mine space or lose the future to Communist China.
• Brandon J. Weichert is the author of “Winning Space: How America Remains A Superpower” (Republic Book Publishers) available now for purchase on Amazon. He can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.