by James Clay Moltz
Beijing (XNA) May 10, 2012
The US space shuttle is no longer in service, and it will likely be several years before the United States can resume independent human spaceflight. As a result, China's upcoming Shenzhou IX mission to the Tiangong-1 space module will be viewed by some Americans with envy.
Fortunately, as the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the commercial sector work to develop new boosters, US astronauts can still travel to the International Space Station aboard a Russian "taxi", thus highlighting the value of international cooperation.
In the past decade, China has succeeded in building a strong record of national accomplishment in human spaceflight and space science, showing increasing skill and sophistication.
It is now about to enter a phase of longer-duration human flights, with the possibility of conducting scientific experiments on board. Hopefully, it will share its findings and use these developments to promote international cooperation.
There will be some in the US media who will use the Shenzhou IX mission to claim that China is ahead and that the US has lost its way in space. But while domestic budgetary disputes have complicated US space planning, it is worth remembering that NASA carried out its first space station mission to its huge Skylab spacecraft back in 1973. By this time, NASA had already conducted multiple landings on the Moon. Thus, China's human spaceflight accomplishments should not be viewed as a threat.
As a second-generation space power, China's biggest hurdle is not technology, but operational experience. Like all space-faring nations, China is likely to make some mistakes. Many in the international community, and some in China, view the orbital debris generated by China's 2007 anti-satellite test as such a mistake. How China deals with these mistakes and how well it works with international partners will be important measures of its future success in space.
The Shenzhou IX flight and the prospect of long-duration Chinese missions in space need not become a source of increased US-Chinese tension. Instead, they should increase the technical rationale for enhanced bilateral cooperation and protection of the space environment, which is in the interests of both countries.
In recent years, NASA has attempted to build bridges with China through trips by NASA administrators Michael Griffin in 2006 and Charles Bolden in 2010. Two US-Chinese technical working groups were also established.
But no progress has been made since 2010 due to a Congressional ban on such cooperation because of lingering concerns about Chinese military use of civil space technology and possible industrial espionage. Addressing these US concerns could help promote renewed cooperation.
China has long cooperated with other countries in civil space. It has acquired technology from a variety of nations, including Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and others in order to develop its capabilities.
Since 1992, it has contributed technology and know-how to less developed nations through the Asia-Pacific Multilateral Cooperation in Space Technology and Applications program and, since 2008, through the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization.
China also cooperates with Russia and members of the European Space Agency on a variety of space science missions and in satellite research.
To date, China has not been allowed to join the International Space Station. A few members of the US Congress in key committees have blocked US support for an invitation, and Japan, a space station member, has also quietly voiced its opposition.
But many US experts in the space field, including former astronauts, see this opposition as mistaken. They point to the successful record of mutually beneficial US-Soviet cooperation that emerged during the Cold War, including the historic 1975 Apollo-Soyuz docking, which built contacts that later proved useful in building the space station.
As China's space program builds its technological skills, most US experts believe that eventual cooperation with China will serve the interests of both sides.
Former NASA chief Michael Griffin, for example, has argued that the US should begin cooperating with China on human spaceflight in order to improve transparency, reduce political tensions, and benefit from new collaborative possibilities.
Beyond space science and human spaceflight, China is also developing the Beidou positioning, timing and navigation system. China is also beginning to play a more active role in the commercial space launch and satellite services market. Chinese success in these endeavors will require a stable, safe and secure space environment.
The US believes all countries have the right to access space. It has stated its opposition to activities that harm the space environment, such as the intentional release of long-lasting space debris.
As space traffic control becomes a more serious problem, the US military's Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC), which tracks space objects, has begun to share collision avoidance information with other countries.
In fact, from mid-2010 to mid-2011, the JSpOC contacted the Chinese government on 147 different occasions to warn of orbital debris threats to Chinese spacecraft.
The US Defense Department has also proposed to Chinese military leaders the initiation of bilateral talks on space security, similar to those that promoted mutual space security with Moscow during the Cold War.
Such talks could promote better US-Chinese understanding, reduce tensions and remove risks of space conflict. Beijing's acceptance of this proposal would be an important step toward ensuring that the space environment remains safe for civil and commercial developments.
According to its new space policy, the Obama administration has embraced the importance of international cooperation. The 2010 National Space Policy describes the "interconnected nature of space capabilities" and calls upon all countries to follow guidelines of "responsible behavior".
These include transparency, orbital debris mitigation, non-interference with the spacecraft of other nations, and enhanced cooperation in managing space traffic. The policy also states that all countries share a common interest in safe access to space.
With these general principles in mind, what specific proposals might be worth considering in the US-Chinese space context? First, since it is important to halt the generation of enduring orbital debris, both countries would benefit from jointly announcing a moratorium on the use or testing of any destructive anti-satellite device against space objects, and inviting other countries to do the same.
Second, since satellite positioning systems, such as GPS and China's Beidou network, provide critical services to the global economy and contribute to human safety in the air, at sea, and on land traffic control, both sides could pledge not to interfere with each other's systems and set an example for other countries.
Third, in order to promote space security, the two sides could work together, and with the Europeans, in developing an international space code of conduct. An existing European draft code calls for advance information about space launches, the development of a common database of spacecraft, and biennial meetings among member states to discuss shared problems. Active US-Chinese cooperation in this process would help US leaders better understand Chinese perspectives, while creating new mechanisms for regular communication.
As the Shenzhou IX mission shows, China has a promising future in space. But it will only be able to realize this potential if its international relations in this new environment remain stable and peaceful. Creating a framework for improved US-Chinese space security relations will help create a positive political context for resuming bilateral cooperation in space science, commerce and human spaceflight.
Source: Xinhua News Agency
Asia's Space Race (2012) and The Politics of Space Security
Military Space News at SpaceWar.com
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ATK Announces Retirement of TacSat-3 Satellite
Arlington, VA (SPX) May 04, 2012
ATK (ATK) announces the conclusion of the Tactical Satellite-3 (TacSat-3) mission. The Air Force announced on April 30th, 2012, that the satellite deorbited into and burned up in the Earth's atmosphere nearly three years after its May 2009 launch. TacSat-3 was designed for six months of operation, with a goal of one year. Not only did it outlive its design life, it also surpassed its origi ... read more
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