China probes space deals
New chief says the sky is now the limit
Xu Dazhe, the new chief of the China’s space industry, is seeking more international cooperation in Washington less than a month after his country’s first successful soft landing on the moon.
Xu said China’s space policy has always been very open. “We are willing to cooperate with all the countries in the world, including the United States as well as developing countries,” he said on Thursday on the sidelines of the International Space Exploration Forum held at the US State Department.
A space scientist by profession, Xu was promoted less than three weeks ago to be the head of the China National Space Administration, from his previous position as head of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.
Xu said that attending the meeting shortly after taking the new job is to send a signal to all his counterparts that China is willing to strengthen cooperation with other nations.
China has been conducting cooperation in space exploration with Russia and the European Union. The EU participated in the observation of China’s moon landing.
China has also been launching satellites for other nations, including sending into orbit a telecommunications satellite for Bolivia on Dec 21.
However, cooperation between China and the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) has been largely banned under a China exclusion policy passed by the US Congress in 2011, prohibiting NASA from using its funds to host Chinese visitors at NASA facilities, citing security concerns. The policy bans NASA from working bilaterally with Chinese nationals affiliated with a Chinese government entity or enterprises.
The policy has sparked protests from space scientists, including some in Europe and the US. So when NASA barred Chinese researchers from attending a Kepler space telescope program conference held at the Ames Research Center in California in early November due to national security concerns, several US scientists threatened to boycott the meeting.
China protested the discrimination. US Republican Representative Frank Wolf, who drafted the 2011 law, issued a statement saying that NASA had misinterpreted the law. He said the law restricts primarily bilateral, not multilateral meetings and activities with the Chinese government or Chinese-owned companies and it places no restrictions on activities involving individual Chinese nationals unless they are acting as official representative of the Chinese government.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden later re-invited the Chinese participants in early October, but it turned out to be too late due to the partial shutdown of the federal government.
Xu praised the US for its advanced space technology and said China has cooperated with the NASA before but it came to a halt due to the law.
He said that the US invitation to China to the forum and his participation have sent a positive signal.
In Washington, Xu is also expected to attend a head of space agencies summit on exploration on Friday, organized by the International Academy of Astronautics.
China was in the spotlight in the Thursday forum which gathered ministers and high-level officials from some 35 space-faring nations to talk about the opportunities and challenges in space exploration.
US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns lauded China for becoming the third country in the world to complete a successful landing on the moon in 2013.
Other major events in the past year included India’s launch of its Mars Orbiter Mission and the US’ Voyager I becoming the first man-made object to leave solar system and enter interstellar space.
Burns emphasized the importance of international cooperation in space exploration. “The question facing us today is whether we can muster the courage and political will to advance space exploration and ensure that cooperation continues to trump competition,” he said at the forum.
NASA has signed more than 4,000 agreements with more than 120 countries and international organizations and the International Space Station (ISS) has welcomed more than 80 countries to participate in its research, according to Burns.
The White House announced on Wednesday that it has approved an extension of the ISS until at least 2024, from the previous 2020. But the funding is still yet to be approved by the US Congress.
John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, described the ISS as pivotal to international cooperation in space today.
“We have been investing in heavy lift launch vehicles, increasing our investment in transformative technology critical to the human mission in space,” Holdren said.
Xu Dazhe, head of the China National Space Administration, talks to reporters during the coffee break of the International Space Exploration Forum held in the US State Department in Washington on Thursday.