China, US move toward cooperation in space

China seems more open to international cooperation in space, experts say
China seems more open to international cooperation in space, experts say

China—which until now has worked alone as it pursues an ambitious space program—seems more open to international cooperation, especially with the United States, European and American experts say.

"There is a change in the Chinese attitude, with a call for cooperation in . And Americans aren't reticent—on the contrary," said Jean-Yves Le Gall, head of the French space agency CNES.

Le Gall spoke Thursday as he left a meeting in Washington of high-level envoys from 30 space-faring nations discussing ways to pool efforts to explore the stars. The conference continued Friday with space agency chiefs.

The space race started as an intense Cold War competition between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

But with budgets shrinking, the United States is relying more on private companies and looking to keep costs down with multinational collaborations—and other countries that are emerging as future major players in space.

The participants at the conference, which included Brazil, China, India, Japan and Russia, "showed a strong desire for coming together" in space exploration activities, Le Gall said, noting that the Chinese showed up in force, with a large delegation.

"The big question for the next three years is whether China will join the International Space Station," which currently includes the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada, he said.

"That's the challenge," the CNES chief said, recalling that the United States had just extended the orbiting space lab's mission by at least four years to 2024.

A Chinese Long March-3B carrier rocket blasts off from the Xichang satellite launch centre in Sichuan, China on December 21, 201
A Chinese Long March-3B carrier rocket blasts off from the Xichang satellite launch centre in Sichuan, China on December 21, 2013

John Logsdon, former director of the the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University and a NASA consultant, shared Le Gall's sentiment.

He noted that China has recently indicated its willingness to participate in the International Space Exploration Coordination Group, which currently has 14 members including NASA.

Beijing has also openly invited other countries to join it in its own ambitious project that aims to put a Chinese space station into orbit within 10 years.

"Every indication is that China is eager to become part of the inner circle of space countries, rather than going its own path," Logsdon told AFP.

He said it was surprising that China, which, along with the United States and Russia is one of three countries in the world "that knows how to put people in space," was not "directly involved in things like the International Space Station."

Logsdon said it was "very possible" that China would be invited within the next two or three years to join some activities aboard the ISS, although he said it was likely to be part of a broader initiative that could also include Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

The expert recalled that NASA was still not authorized by the US Congress to work with China, because several lawmakers consider it a risk to America's national security.

Jean-Yves Le Gall, head of the French space agency, pictured in Washington, DC on July 8, 2013
Jean-Yves Le Gall, head of the French space agency, pictured in Washington, DC on July 8, 2013

But if the European Space Agency were to issue an invitation to China to participate in the ISS partnership, NASA would not be required to oppose it, Logsdon said.

"We have seen a strong willingness among the different space agencies of the world to increase global cooperation in ," he added.

So far it's just "rhetoric," he said, "but it is a step toward reality."

The head of the French was equally cautious, but he said the current environment was conducive to increased cooperation.

"Paradoxically, the space-faring nations that are in the forefront"—including the United States and Europe—"don't have any more money, while those that have the ambition to get there and to be recognized, like China, have money," he said.

For him, "that constitutes a good ground to get together."

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© 2014 AFP

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Jan 12, 2014
Didnt Bill Clinton catch a lot of heat for sharing rocket technology with China? Seems to me they wanted cooperation way back then but we had political problems that put a stop to it.

Jan 12, 2014
Regardless, it's a move in the right direction.

Jan 12, 2014
Well, what we really need to advance manned flight and hopefully future practical applications (mining,) is a reliable manned space ship with minimum cost and maintenance.

Some key problems with the shuttle program:

Wasted mass: When you want a cargo ship, you're paying for passenger transport. When you want a crew transport, you're paying for cargo transport.

Upkeep: repairing all those dings and tiles, re-engineering the fuel tank every year or two due to insulation problems, etc.

When the Lunar landings were done, the rocket engines for the return launch for the modules had one shot of firing; Get it wrong, you die. I don't think NASA today would launch a 2 or 3 man crew in a machine that risky

We need not just a capsule, but a reliable lander which can land on the Moon, asteroids, and Ceres dwarf planet, without relying on a "one shot" rocket engine.

Of course, a trip to Ceres is longer than Mars, but landing on Ceres is probably a lot easier.

Jan 12, 2014
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Jan 12, 2014
All of this is just pie in the sky until we develop a dirt cheap and utterly reliable Earth-to-orbit propulsion system.

And in the meantime, this cost-sharing strategy just makes it cheaper for China to position itself favorably in the race for space resources exploitation. Every nation involved is slavering at the thought of all the wealth represented by our nearspace neighbors -both large and small- but who will have the most money available to take advantage of the opportunity once it is a matter of established practice? China, principally, and every yuan saved by co-oping these develpment costs will be funnelled into their national program once the real race begins.

This sword cuts both ways.

Jan 13, 2014
China is steadily progressing in space whereas the US under the influence of the prevalent anti technology mentality is regressing more and more. China's move toward mining the moon should have been the initiative the US took long ago.

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