- NASA Watch
- January 25, 2023
China and Russia Reach 5 Year Agreement on Space Activities
Keith’s note: I was interviewed live on China Global Television Network last night about the 5 year agreement that China and Russia have reached over various aspects of space exploration.
Interesting comments you made (among several),
“One place you never hear about problems is [pointing up]”
“They have capabilities to do stuff without us.”
And particularly Chinese have same docking standard as the Russians and they can dock to ISS tomorrow if it were not for some politicians. Which I never understood why not allowing China to ISS when we have exported so much technology and other manufacturing to China.
I’ve got to take NotInventedHere’s side here, just because they can, doesn’t mean they should. What is the advantage to the US to get involved with the Chinese space program? I’ve never understood the desire for “cooperation” for its own sake.
During the Apollo-Soyuz era it was meant to serve as a symbol for shared humanity after the space-race was won (a “no hard feelings” handshake after the main game), during the ’90s it was meant to provide funding/activity to the Russian space-program to reduce the number of Russian rocket scientists moving to high-paying jobs in the Middle East. And with Europe, Canada and Japan, it lets the NASA get cheap access to specialised instrument makers and reciprocal access to ESA-led robotic missions.
What is the advantage to the US of chasing cooperation with China in HSF?
I can’t think of any obvious reasons beyond political or public relations to show “cooperation” between our two nations. I’m quite skeptical that there would be any technical or economic advantages for the US.
That said, I’m not sure what the harm would be either. Thanks to the Russians, it sounds like the Chinese have (nearly) everything they need to fly to and dock with ISS except for the permission to do so, of course.
one reason could be to share some of the costs of operation. Just keeping the ISS in orbit is a good chunk of NASA’s budget. I’m sure a deal could be worked out to let the Chinese dock and then start paying rent
While this is a common argument, cooperation with foreign governments introduces *a lot* of costs in and of itself. Travel, translation, developing common interfaces, common communications protocols, and etc.
Or uncommon communications protocols. In the case of the Juno mission, JPL ended up developing duplicate data access and delivery systems for the instrument teams. One let most of the people involved access just about anything. One that let the IR spectrometer team (Italian) access what they needed without giving access to export or ITAR controlled information. Of course, that was only an issue because international cooperation has to cope with laws _against_ communicating with foreign nationals.
Why would Chinese paying the bill for ISS? What’s in it for them? They’re not stupid, they can build their own small station and this gives them propaganda value, to get them to pay for ISS you need to give them something in return. The only thing that is useful to them is access to US space technologies, once they get the tech they have no need for this “cooperation” arrangement anymore so most likely they’ll just quit, and the US gets nothing while lost everything.
As with Europe (plus the United Kingdom, since membership in the European Space Agency is not tied to membership in the European Union), Canada and Japan, involving China would let “the NASA get cheap access to specialised instrument makers and reciprocal access to [CN]SA-led robotic missions.”
I see nothing in Chinese mission hardware that would indicate any particular sophistication, compared to ESA/Japan.
The Chinese are the only nation (or organization) to land anything on the Moon since the 1970s. Their Yutu rover was a significant advance over the old Soviet Lunokhod rovers, and I expect the Yutu 2 (or whatever they decide to call it) will be even better (planned landing in late 2018.) They are probably the world leaders in ground penetrating radar suitable for planetary landers or rovers. And, in a bit under a year, they will have the first and only communications satellite at the Earth-Moon L2 point. That’s kind of handy if you want to operate a mission on the lunar far side.
Now, you might say those are fairly narrow, specialized things. Sure. But there isn’t anything wrong with being the best in a small, niche market. Lots of businesses do quite well that way. And, within that area, if they are doing something we are interested in, why not cooperate or collaborate with them? If someone wants to study charged dust dynamics on the lunar surface, why ban NASA from even considering the idea of providing an appropriate instrument to go on Chang’e 4?
Europe/Canada/Japan are strong US allies, you don’t have to worry about them using the technologies you shared against you, China is a whole different matter.
I’m sure US commercial companies can provide equal if not better Moon landers/rovers if NASA just gives them a chance, why not cooperate with US companies first before trying to “cooperate” with your biggest competitor?
Gee, why are we cooperating with Russia, Canada, India, Japan, all of Europe, Nepal, and many other countries?
While I don’t anticipate an invasion from Canada, I would be shocked if Canadian companies (or European or Japanese companies) were not interested in economic competition with the United States. In that respect, I suspect they are every bit as willing as China to use shared technology against us. And I can’t see American companies wouldn’t hesitating to use shared technology in competition against Canadian, European or Japanese companies.
As far as US companies providing good lunar landers or rovers, I’m sure they could if someone paid them enough. But NASA isn’t interested in paying that much.
There is a class of experiments NASA funds as “missions of opportunity.” They cover situations where someone else is going somewhere, NASA isn’t interested in funding a full mission to that location, but would like to get one or two instruments their.
A current example is the Japanese Moons of Mars eXplorer (MMX), which is a Phobos sample return mission scheduled for a 2024 launch. NASA isn’t willing to fund a full up Phobos sample return (or any dedicated Phobos mission.) There have been several Discovery proposals along these lines, and none were selected. But NASA is, as a Mission of Opportunity, quite willing to spend a few million and provide a neutron and gamma ray spectrometer. JAXA/ISAS gets a good instrument for free, and NASA gets a specific data set they’re interested in without having to pay for an entire mission.
In a similar light, NASA isn’t interested in paying for a lunar far side lander/rover (with the L2 communications satellite to support it…) That’s not a priority in the planetary decadal survey or strategic plan. But if someone else is going there, NASA’s astrophysics division might be quite interested in spending a few million to supply a radio astronomy experiment. People have been talking about how great the far side would be for radio astronomy since before Sputnik. But no one’s every made any measurements to support that.
That’s the sort of international cooperation which is extremely common in planetary science. At a guess, I’d say half of all 21st century planetary missions have, are, or plan to carry instruments provided by another country. (Actually compiling that list would be an interesting exercise for an undergraduate…)
I don’t see any inherent reason we can’t cooperate in that way with virtually any other country in the world, but not with China. If Saudi Arabia decided to fly a lunar far side lander, NASA wouldn’t be bared from providing a Mission of Opportunity instrument, despite the fact that the country is a monarchy with a dubious human rights record. Why single out China?
WRT to Canada: come on over here to Naples in the winter. You’ll need to reassess your views about a Canadian invasion.
And here’s the thing: It’s covert! They look just like us.
Why does people think cooperation with China in space is a good idea? What do you want out of it?
Space cooperation in general doesn’t have a good track record, look at what happened to Atlas-5’s use of RD-180.
Gee, why do we cooperate with Russia? Canada? Japan? India? With dozens of countries and international organizations?
Canada/Japan/India are all democracies and close US allies, even Russia is a democracy in name at least. And these countries do not steal US intellectual property on a regular basis.
Scientists have a long history of collaboration across international borders. They get that partnering for the sake of scientific breakthroughs, is worth the geo political risks involved.
It is scientist who will eventually bring the world together. Not politicians.
The obviousness of this—and the failure of some to recognize the merits of cooperation—is confounding.
At some point, and at some time, in the future, one can imagine a planet in which humans neither distrust nor kill one another. And while the road to this long-off future isn’t visible, the desirability of this future is clear.
That was an interesting point about indirect cooperation with China. You pointed out that the US cooperates with Russia and that Russia cooperates with China. As a more tangible example, I know of one European institute which wanted to provide an instrument for a Chinese lunar mission (unfortunately, it wasn’t selected.) They asked an American institution to build part of the instrument (as a paid hardware contractor, so no NASA money would be involved.) But dealing with the legal issues would potentially have cost more than the hardware itself.
On the other hand, I think I partially disagree with the point about research bases in Antarctica. There are very few international (i.e. jointly operated) bases. I think O’Higgins (Chile/Germany) and Concordia (France/Italy) are currently the only permanent ones. Don’t get me wrong. There are visitors from other countries, everybody shares resources and the Antarctic is a model for international cooperation. But it isn’t quite as tight as I think you implied. The cooperation on ISS is much tighter than a Russian, European or Japanese scientist spending the supper at Amundsen-Scott.
Several people have asked why we should cooperate with China in space. The short answer is that we should learn to cooperate with them in space because we must learn to cooperate with them on Earth. The US and China will be the world’s superpowers for the next generation. Whether we can cooperate in a constructive manner, with natural competition but mutual respect, or instead descend into suspicion, hostility and bitter conflict, that, more than any other single geopolitical issue, will determine the world our children will live in.
Having worked for many years with people from China, I remain astounded at the simplistic views so many supposedly educated Americans have of a nation with a history vastly longer and significantly more complex than our own. I am particularly disappointed at the naive view that the Chinese have no original ideas, and that their unprecedented economic growth is somehow due to stealing our secret knowledge, and that we should therefore exclude them from the ISS.
Wolf’s xenophobia was infectious. A suprising number of educated Americans think China has no original science, engineering or art, and that China will steal American “secrets” on the ISS.