If there was any doubts remaining about the rise of the new economic superpowers of China and India then their fast developing space programmes should silence any dissenters.

Today’s headlines feature a couple of significant stories.

Firstly, China has confirmed that it has used a ballistic missile to destroy a weather satellite. Secondly, India says its orbiting space capsule has safely returned to Earth paving the way for an unmanned mission to the Moon (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/default.stm).

One story has set the alarm bells ringing (no prizes for guessing which one), while the other has jolted a fair few people who were unaware of India’s move into space.

Both stories signal a major new chapter in the story of our attempts to explore beyond our own planet.

There is cause for concern that a weather satellite has been successfully destroyed by a ground-based missile and not simply because the country behind the incident is China. The issue is not who has done it, but the fact that it has been done.

Some are claiming China’s actions will kickstart another arms race, similar to the one that resulted in the Cold War stalemate and period of global uncertainty. 

It is clear that such an escalation is a possibility and with China and India joining the other members of an elite club of countries with proven space exploration technology – the others being the US, France, Russia and Japan – many will be keeping a close watch on developments to see who does what next.

The big unanswered question remains why both China and India are using their advanced knowledge and technical expertise to test weapons – India unsuccessfully attempted to test fire a long-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile last summer.

There is much to applaud in the new economic superpowers joining the space race. However, when their programmes veer towards creating a new arms race then there is reason to question and to be concerned.

Exactly what the old, established empires do to strike back against the new empires will possibly determine whether we get another dose of “star wars” to rival the ultimately futile US-USSR stand-off of the 1980s.


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