This isn't your father's or your grandfather's space race. The days of beating other countries to a big launch or a moon landing are long gone. The modern-day space race involves technology like hypersonic missiles or satellites that can attack other satellites. Russia even recently used a missile to blow up a satellite, sending debris near the International Space Station.
All of this activity has led to what some experts are calling a new "shadow war in space." Keith Cowing, editor of NASAWatch, agrees that a new era has arrived in space. "You look at the recent Chinese hypersonic missile flight, and some of the things the Russians are doing, add in the increased militarization of space and the formation of U.S. Space Force," he says. "Clearly, there's more of an interest in protecting assets in space."
"At the same time, there's the private sector, and they're putting up their own fleets of spacecraft, oftentimes without government money," Cowing continues.
Recent actions of Russia and China in space have the attention of the U.S. President Biden said he was concerned about the Chinese hypersonic missile test, and the White House criticized the Russian satellite blast as "reckless, dangerous and irresponsible."
"It's an ever-present concern and something that we should be concerned about," says Cowing. "What it comes down to is the best offense is a good defense, which is where the focus seems to be in the U.S. right now."
That defense will likely be in the hands of Space Force, which despite being mocked and maligned when it was established, could now see an important role in national defense. "Bringing (space-related agencies and assets) all into one place where everyone is focused on one mission, and they're not split among different service branches is probably a good thing," says Cowing. "The question is are they just coordinating a response, or will they have a response?"