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Chinese Space Program Increases International Cooperation

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
May 10, 2016
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The crew of Shenzhou-10 after 15 days in space. (Credit: CNSA)

The crew of Shenzhou-10 after 15 days in space. (Credit: CNSA)

China’s growing space program is deepening its cooperation with Russia and Europe while partnerships with the United States remain severely limited due to Congressional restrictions.

“It is well understood that the United States is a global leader in space technology. But China is no less ambitious in contributing to human development,” said Zhou Jianping, chief engineer of China’s human space program. “Cooperation between major space players will be conducive to the development of all mankind.”

China’s Russia Connection

Russia and China are pursuing a broad range of cooperative programs.

“Russia and China have good interaction mechanisms. We have a plan of cooperation in several dozens of projects that are successfully implemented,” said Xu Dazhe, China’s Deputy Industry and Information Technology Minister. The two sides are cooperating “in the fields of engine technology, electronics, joint research of the Universe, development of new technologies and optimized use of space resources,” he added.

Russia is trading its expertise in liquid fuel engine technologies for Chinese expertise in radiation-resistant electronic for use in satellites. The exchange will help China improve its launch vehicles while Russia can evade Western sanctions imposed over its military intervention in Ukraine.

As a sign of the deepening cooperation, Roscosmos CEO Igor Komarov took part in China’s National Space Day on April 24 to commemorate the 46th anniversary of the launch of the first Chinese satellite.

European Cooperation Expands

Meanwhile, ESA has been expanding its cooperation with China, with it has named one of its three strategic partners along with the United States and Russia. Last month, ESA Director General Johann-Dietrich Woerner completed a visit to China where he met with top space officials.

“Let’s open space. Space is beyond all borders so let’s also have the cooperation beyond borders,” Woerner said during his visit. “When you ask astronauts, and I’m sure also the Chinese astronauts will tell you the same: they cannot see any border from space. So this is a very nice vision. We should use this and cooperate worldwide on different schemes, and I think Moon Village has its value for that.”

Woerner’s Moon Village plan involves selecting a location on the lunar surface where different countries could place habitats and other elements for human exploration. The village would not be a single, integrated program like the International Space Station.

The Moon Village remains a concept that lacks any formal approval by ESA, NASA or any other space agency.

For now, ESA and China are working together on a space-weather observatory. A European experiment flew aboard the Shijan-10 experimental capsule, which flew in orbit for 12 days last month before parachuting back to Earth.

ESA has also sent personnel to visit Chinese human spaceflight training facilities. Several European astronauts have been learning Chinese as part of a joint cooperation program.

The long-term goal is for a European astronaut to fly aboard a Shenzhou spacecraft to a Chinese space station. China plans to launch the core module of a permanent multi-module space station around 2018, with completion set for 2022.

Chinese officials are looking to use the space station to fly astronauts and experiments from multiple countries.

U.S. Cooperation Remains Difficult

Chinese officials say they would like to cooperate with United States in space.

“China will not rule out cooperating with any country, and that includes the United States,” said Yang Liwei, China’s first astronaut.”The future of space exploration lies in international cooperation. It’s true for us, and for the United States, too.”

Cooperation is strictly limited, however. Under U.S. law prohibits NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from spending any money on cooperating with China in space.

The prohibiion does not apply to the State Department. American and Chinese diplomats held discussions on civil space cooperation during the seventh round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue last June.

The three-day meeting led to the establishment of a plan to hold regular talks on civil space cooperation in areas such as satellite-collision avoidance, weather monitoring and climate research.

Meanwhile, some cooperation is taking place. A commercial Chinese experiment will be flown to the International Space Station later this year under a private agreement between NanoRacks and the Beijing Institute of Technology.

The experiment will test the effect of the space environment on DNA. An earlier experiment flew to China’s Tiangong-1 space station in 2011.


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4 responses to “Chinese Space Program Increases International Cooperation”

  1. Vladislaw says:

    I just don’t see it. Russia’s budgets in space have been cut and I do not see china moving with the same ferocity that both Russia and the US displayed in their heyday .. any one have numbers for the chinese space efforts?

  2. windbourne says:

    America cooperated with China on space before. We fixed a number of issues for their launchers. However, as was seen, the fixes were implemented into their ICBMs first, prior to their launchers.
    IOW, any cooperation with their space program, is really about giving data to the CPLA.

  3. Andrew Tubbiolo says:

    China’s hitting the skids. I’ll bet they need help paying for their upcoming Sino-Mir. The question who would willingly sign up to transfer their technology to the Chinese in exchange for janitor duty on their station? The UK? Probably. Brazil … if they pay in cash. I could see the US do it, in the name of diplomacy. But Space X will put extreme pressure on what ever administration would attempt such a move, and I’d think they’d win. Maybe some of their new African colonies, or Latin American client states would be willing to pony up some cash.

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