Last spring the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) produced a report that included a lengthy section on the future of Chinese space science and technology. A translation with commentary is now available on the UCS website.
November 20th, 2013
November 8th, 2013
Last week NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told an audience at Gettysburg College the U.S. space agency is resuming cooperation with China on space geodesy. Geodesy is the science of measurement of the size, shape, rotation, and gravitational field of the Earth and the study of geodesy incorporates a variety of space-based measurements. NASA and China have a cooperative agreement on space geodesy first signed in 1997 and renewed in 2010. Activities under that agreement were suspended after Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) attached language to a continuing resolution to fund the U.S. government in April 2011. The language forbids NASA “to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement, or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China.” Read More
September 27th, 2013
On 25 September 2013 China launched another earth observation satellite into orbit. The spacecraft, identified in Chinese press reports as the Kuaizhou 1, is a small earth observation satellite that will be used for disaster management and will be operated by China’s National Remote Sensing Center. But the launch had a second purpose: to test a new solid-fueled launch vehicle the Chinese military plans to use to provide a rapid ability to replace Chinese satellites that might be damaged or destroyed by an enemy attack. Read More
September 27th, 2013
August 5th, 2013
Next year China will open a new space port on a tropical island in the South China Sea. In addition to supporting a new generation of wider-bodied space launch vehicles that will expand China’s capability to carry larger and heavier spacecraft into Earth orbit and beyond, the opening of the new launch facility on Hainan Island marks a noteworthy shift in the culture of the Chinese space community. Read More
June 28th, 2013
June 26th, 2013
It’s happening again. Seeing the earth from space is raising our awareness, as a species, of the precious and precarious nature of life on what astronomer Carl Sagan called our “mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.” Many U.S. astronauts commented on the transformative personal experience of seeing the earth from space. Chinese astronauts are having the same experience. More importantly, they are communicating the heart of Carl Sagan’s message to the large Chinese television audiences following their accomplishments in space. Read More
June 20th, 2013
After traveling the U.S. equivalent of the distance between Philadelphia and Orlando in just under six hours on China’s high speed rail network, I arrived at the National University of Defense Technology in Changsha for a conference on space and cyber security. The university hosts some of China’s most advanced technology, including the world’s fastest supercomputer. The presentations and discussions I attended made it clear that despite all of the talk about the supposed rise of China and the imagined decline of the United States, Chinese security analysts and military officials remain concerned about a scientific and technological arms race they can not win. Read More
April 10th, 2013
Every year on April 12, people around the globe gather to celebrate the anniversary of the launch of the first person to orbit the Earth, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
The official coordinating website of the events, yurisnight.net, says:
Yuri’s Night is a global celebration of humanity’s past, present, and future in space. Yuri’s Night parties and events are held around the world every April in commemoration of April 12, 1961, the day of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s first manned spaceflight, and April 12, 1981, the inaugural launch of NASA’s Space Shuttle.
This year for the anniversary I thought I would link to my post from last October, Skydiving from a Reentering Spaceship, which describes the death-defying way Gagarin and his fellow astronauts—including the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova—returned to Earth at the end of their flights.
You can’t make this stuff up.
April 1st, 2013
Chinese Astronaut Yang Liwei aboard his Shenzhou V spacecraft during China’s first human space flight in October 2003. Image captured from a Chinese Central Television (CCTV) broadcast.
In a March 28 essay in The Diplomat, Scott Pace, a leading U.S. space policy expert, argues the United States should take proactive steps “to shape the international environment for the space activities that our economy and security depend on.” One important step he suggests is to focus on Asia.
His approach appears in part to be aimed at countering Chinese influence:
“If China is able to offer pragmatic opportunities for space cooperation on its own space station or as part of efforts to send humans to the Moon, other countries will likely see it attractive to forge closer relationships with China. A shift in international space influence away from the United States and toward China would have the potential to impact a wide range of U.S. national security and foreign policy interests in space.”
As a result, he recommends the U.S. strengthen ties with allies in the region:
“A primary strategic task for the United States should be to develop and implement a national security space strategy for the Asia-Pacific region. In particular, to build on existing alliance relationship such as with Japan, Australia, and South Korea to include dual-use space technologies.”
A “pivot” in U.S. space policy aimed at countering Chinese influence would be consistent with the Obama administration’s strategic shift of U.S. economic and defense priorities toward Asia. But it also risks extending regional tensions exacerbated by the “unnecessary and counterproductive” aspects of Obama’s pivot to Asia into a vitally important global commons.
Instead of isolating China in space with the aid of a reluctant collection of Asian partners who all wish to maintain constructive relations with the world’s second largest economy, U.S. interests might be better served by an inclusive national space strategy that embraces cooperation with China. Other U.S. space policy experts note that many U.S. partners, including the European Space Agency (ESA) and Canada, are already urging the United States to pursue cooperation and drop its opposition to Chinese to participation in the International Space Station (ISS). They argue a U.S. invitation to China is a low-risk, cost-effective means for the United States “to retain its leadership position in the current HSF [Human Space Flight] program” and establish itself as the leading partner in a follow-on program after the ISS is retired.
“A partnership with China could be developed along the same lines as was done with integrating the Russian space program into the ISS partnership. Using this model, no military-sensitive technology would be transferred. China’s economy would allow for it to fully fund its own efforts. Thus there would be little increased expense to the United States for developing this advantageous relationship.“
More importantly, the image of Chinese astronauts working together with global partners, including the United States, would shift the geostrategic import of Chinese achievements in space away from national ambitions towards the more politically constructive Chinese goal of establishing China as an equal member of the international community of space-faring nations. Organizing a U.S.-led coalition of space-faring Asian nations that excludes China would have the opposite effect, and risks igniting a new and counterproductive space race pitting China against its neighbors.
Dr. Pace appears open to a more inclusive approach that should “serve the full range of U.S. interests is in the Asia-Pacific region, beginning but not limited to our traditional friends and allies such as Japan and Australia.” The U.S. and its allies have a strong interest in constructive relations with China, which would be better served by cooperation than by competition in space.