Many experts believe a future war between major powers could play out in space, as nations are producing spacecraft that have potential military applications. The U.S. Air Force launched its third mission of its Orbital Test Vehicle, the X-37B, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in December 2012. The U.S. military recently budgeted $5 billion for space warfare capabilities.
The Shenzhou X spacecraft, carried by a Long March-2F carrier rocket, is installed at the launch pad in Jiuquan, China, in June 2013. The spacecraft carried three astronauts to visit the Tiangong-1 space module. China's space program has launched more than 130 systems in the past few years, including spy satellites and a new navigation system that would provide an alternate to GPS.
A Russian-built Proton-M rocket, carrying a Turkish Turksat-4A communications satellite, is mounted at a launch pad in the Russian-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in February 2014. The massive dependence of both commerce and militaries on satellite communications makes space a domain at risk for conflict in the event of war.
In a testing procedure, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle taxis at Vandenberg AFB, California, in June 2009. The X-37 is an unmanned military space plane that is powered into space on a rocket and lands like a conventional aircraft on a runway, like the now-defunct space shuttle. Systems such as the X-37 could provide crucial surveillance over areas that spy satellites are not yet covering, or offer quick replacement if the satellites are shot down.
In this image taken from China's CCTV, the Shenzhou 8 craft docks with the orbiting Tiangong 1 module in November 2011. The ability to bring together two systems moving at such high speeds can also be used not merely for rendezvous, but attack and targeting if a conflict were to break out in space.
This TV grab of animated video illustrates the docking of the Tiangong-1 space lab module and the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft in space. China successfully carried out its first docking exercise in November 2011 between two unmanned spacecraft, a key test of the rising power's plans to secure a long-term manned foothold in space. China plans to have its own space station to rival the ISS in the early 2020s.
Russia's Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft, carrying the International Space Station (ISS) crew of US astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko, blasts off from the launchpad at Baikonur Cosmodrome on March 28, 2015. If a conflict were to break out, the dependence of the U.S. on Russian launch facilities could be a major issue.
The Shenzhou-9 -- China's fourth manned space mission -- blasts off from the Jiuquan space base in the remote Gobi desert in June 2012.