NASA is developing a new Space Launch System that one day may carry humans to Mars. It eventually will be the biggest rocket ever built, able to lift 130 metric tons to Low Earth Orbit. China says it wants to build an even bigger rocket, dubbed Long March 9. But China has announced no plans to send astronauts to Mars, which raises the question why it would need such a big launch vehicle. The answer may reside in the fact that, unlike NASA, the Chinese space program is run by the military. If it develops a super-heavy-lift rocket with a large-diameter payload fairing at the top, the rocket could be used to orbit outsized satellites for tracking U.S. warships, eavesdropping on sensitive communications, and the like. That possibility is a reminder that NASA’s Space Launch System may not be a military program, but the technologies enabling it may nonetheless have important national-security applications. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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