News / Science & Technology

Could US Work with China on Space Issues?

The Long March 2-F rocket loaded with Shenzhou-10 manned spacecraft carrying Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping lifts off from the launch pad in the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu province, June 11, 2013.
The Long March 2-F rocket loaded with Shenzhou-10 manned spacecraft carrying Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping lifts off from the launch pad in the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu province, June 11, 2013.
As China's space program rapidly advances, many are debating whether the United States should consider unprecedented cooperation with Beijing on space science and exploration missions.

The topic is controversial in Washington, where many fear the rise of China's space program, which is controlled by the People's Liberation Army, may eventually pose a military threat.

China's space program has made remarkable progress in a relatively short period. Just 10 years after launching its first manned space mission, it has already begun preparations for building its own space station, which it plans to complete by 2020.

It has also made quick progress on a homegrown satellite navigation system, known as Beidu, that could challenge the U.S.-created Global Positioning System (GPS) and become crucial to the overall modernization of China's armed forces.

Despite the progress, analysts say Beijing's space program is still decades behind that of the United States, as well as Russia, in terms of technology and experience. Ken Dewoskin is with Deloitte's China Research and Insight Center in Beijing. He said NASA may be reluctant to help China make up that gap by sharing American technology and know-how.

"[U.S. cooperation] would accelerate their technology tremendously, it would pull them ahead decades, which is one reason possibly that it's very difficult to negotiate," said Dewoskin.

Dewoskin said while China is relatively straightforward about its grand space ambitions, it has been very opaque about the military aspect of those goals. "Lurking behind the visible and very widely celebrated space achievements [are] the military issues and capabilities, especially surveillance and possibly even space-based weaponry," he stated.

Mike Wall, a senior writer at Space said in an interview that much of the technology that would be shared under such a partnership could have military, not only civilian uses. "The United States' leadership on the battlefield for so many decades has been primarily the result of our space supremacy. We have so many good space assets, satellite networks and so on," said Wall.

Wall said another problem holding back U.S.-China cooperation on space is the U.S. Congress, which has placed tough restrictions on cooperation between NASA and China's space program. "There are more than a few people in Congress who are a little bit worried that if the U.S. cooperates with China, what they will do with that information," he added.

But others point out there may be benefits to U.S.-China space cooperation. One of those people is NASA chief Charles Bolden, who has said that "some level of engagement" could be helpful to both countries.

Even though the United States may not agree to large-scale cooperation, such as bringing China into the International Space Station program, some say more limited projects, such as space debris cleanup, could be a good start.

Wall said there will always be room for Beijing and Washington to work together in space. "Space is a big place and it's expensive to explore it. And if we're going to actually explore space as a species and push out into the solar system, it's not like there's just one country that's going to be able to do it effectively," he said.

Victor Beattie also contributed to this report.

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Comment Sorting
by: Michael D. Campbell from: Houston, Texas
June 19, 2013 11:18 AM
China has been and continues to be involved in energy and mineral acquisitions throughout the world. China also has a strong interest in the Moon for resources and other objectives.

by: Frank from: O. County, USA
June 12, 2013 2:19 AM
It is more than joke that US and China collaborate with each other in the space issues. Chinese are stealing US's technology through cyber attack. They never respect International Laws. No trust should be put on Chinese!
In Response

by: Intrepid from: LA
June 12, 2013 3:53 PM
The NSA has a department called the Office of Tailored Access Operations (TAO) whose sole purpose is to break into foreign computers and steal secrets. All this media reporting about Chinese espionage is making Americans forget that it happens the other way too.

U.S. accusations about China breaking international law is the pot calling the kettle black.

by: Intrepid from: LA
June 11, 2013 1:28 PM
The U.S. excluded China from contributing to the International Space Station. This forced the Chinese to go it alone. Their money and resources could have been used to further humanity's united effort in space, but instead distrust and paranoia couldn't let it happen.
In Response

by: ChasL from: Seattle
June 12, 2013 1:24 PM
Exactly, why should China do us any favor, after we’ve snuffed them on ISS? But knowing China and how Chinese people just love us, they probably will let us tag along. If we don’t have any pride that is. I mean the Pentagon is already using Chinese satellite already.
In Response

by: mary from: sunnyvale
June 12, 2013 2:14 AM
China is one of the most sneaky, untrustful country, they are very good at stealing and copy technology and every other stuff, why you think America at that time will not worry about take them in for the space program? now the things America need to really focus on is how to improve yourself and stay on the top. you China want to beat America up the let's compete. I know how exactly Chinese thinking and behaving because I am a Chinese but a different Chinese.

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