China Eyes Entry To ISS Project
China is in a preliminary negotiation to gain entry to the International Space Station (ISS) project, Reuters reported last Saturday (Apr. 28).
The news agency cited a Kazakh television interview in which Yuri Koptev, head of Rosaviakosmos (Russian Aviation and Space Agency) said: "Today there are preliminary talks on this, and one should not rule out China's participation in this programme."
Koptev's comment came after the Soyuz TM-32 mission lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome with the American paid tourist Dennis Tito on board.
Koptev also said that Rosaviakosmos and Energia, the manufacturer of the Soyuz spacecraft, would seek other paid customers for the semi-annual "taxi" mission which delivers a fresh replacement Soyuz vehicle to ISS.
Since the Soyuz spacecraft is the emergency escape vehicle for the ISS resident crew, flight rules call for a replacement of the vehicle about every six months.
Late last year China announced that it would expand international scientific cooperation. Among the goals that the country would seek is joining the ISS project.
On Dec. 27 last year Chinese Minister of Science and Technology Zhu Lilan made the announcement of the initiative. Zhu said that the government would increase funding by at least $100 million renminbi ($12.1 million US) beginning this year, the first year of the current and 10th Five-Year Economic Plan, for international scientific cooperation projects.
Zhu said that participation in international science projects would benefit the nation and improve its international competitiveness.
However, it is not apparent what China would contribute to the multinational space project if it gains a membership.
Such an admittance would give China invaluable experience in manned spaceflight technologies and operation, including the management of a manned space platform.
Last October in the first ever issued "White Paper" on the long-range space plan, China states that it intends to achieve in the next two decades manned space launches and establish a small orbital laboratory which would lead to a permanent space station.
An important international space cooperation partner for China is its northern neighbor Russia. In an interview with the ITAR-TASS news agency two weeks ago, a founder of the Chinese space industry called upon greater cooperation with Russia in the development of space exploration and peaceful uses of space; particularly in the area of manned spaceflight.
"I am confident that Russian and Chinese specialists will pool efforts in the peaceful exploration and use of space resources and in the further development of international cooperation in this field," said Sun Jiadong, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the International Academy of Space Sciences.
During the current visit to Russia, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiahuan and his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov signed a protocol of a draft treaty on "good-neighborly relations, friendship and cooperation" between the two countries on Sunday (Apr. 29).
Ivanov said that Russia and China "are unanimous in believing that this treaty will play a great role in the further development and enrichment of our relations in all areas."
According to the Interfax news agency, the final treaty will be signed when Chinese Chairman Jiang Zemin visits Russia in July during the two-nation summit.
While the Chinese preliminary discussion to join the ISS project and the pending signing of the bilateral treaty are two separate development, taking them together raises an intriguing possibility that Russia may coax China to catch a ride to ISS on a Soyuz "taxi" mission.
Russia may offer the ride to China at a discounted rate or a free ride in reciprocation with China under the treaty.
If such an invitation arises, China may not reject the offer even though it is pursuing to launch its own manned space mission.
The acceptance of a ride on a Soyuz "taxi" mission will likely gain China access to ISS much sooner than going through the negotiation process.
A senior Chinese space official said in an interview with the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun in March that China would aim to launch its yuhangyuans ("astronauts") as early as late 2002 on the sixth Shenzhou ("Magic Vessel") mission.
Even if the Chinese "taxi" ride on a Soyuz occurs before the first manned Shenzhou mission, the momentous and historic occasion of the first Chinese manned launch is in no way diminished.
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