U.S. Will Pick Up Pace in Race to Space With China, DOD Official Says

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Jan. 08, 2019) -- The United States isn't out of the game yet when it comes to space, but if it wants to remain on top, it will need to do more and do it faster, a senior Defense Department official said today.

"China is integrating certain new technologies and fielding those capabilities faster than the U.S.," said Chris Shank, director of DOD's Strategic Capabilities Office. "That means we have to be more responsive."

Shank spoke during a presentation in San Diego hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, where he pointed out some statistics regarding space launches last year.

"China had 39 launches, the U.S. had 31, Russia had 20, [and] Europe had eight," Shank said. "And [China] landed a robotic mission on the dark side of the moon -- a first."

Shank said that while he doesn't think the U.S. has lost leadership in space, it is losing ground. After all, he noted, the United States isn't without its own recent achievements in space.

Space Development Agency

"In the same week that they land on the moon, we are at the furthest reaches of the solar system at Ultima Thule," he said. NASA's New Horizons probe flew by and observed the trans-Neptunian object about 4 billion miles from the sun last week. It's the farthest object ever explored in space.

Shank said to stay relevant in space, the United States will need to speed up its development cycle for space-based technologies significantly.

"The DOD is committed to creating a Space Development Agency," Shank said. "That would be a joint organization ... to rapidly develop and field the next generation of space capabilities. I think that a Space Development Agency will represent a real investment in experimenting and prototyping of the rapid field of capabilities. ... So buckle up -- 2019 is going to be busy."