Will cooperation or competition define international space science and exploration in the 21st century? The answer may come down to how the two space superpowers, the United States and China, choose to engage with each other in the next few years.
By most indicators, the United States is still the global leader in space, but China is systematically advancing its ambitious space agenda, speeding up its pace, drawing up blueprints and conducting a series of robotic interplanetary explorations to the asteroid belt and Jupiter. Wait for the destination, and return the Mars sample to the mission. China’s five-year plan for lunar exploration is also included. The plan recently announced a partnership with Russia, which will lead the two countries to jointly build an international lunar research station under the care of human workers.
At the same time, closer to the earth, China is rapidly building its “Tiangong”-a multi-module Tiangong space station. The core part of the station is already operating at high altitude and can accommodate three crew members. By the end of next year, the rapid launch of more astronauts, supply ships, and add-on modules should end the assembly of China’s orbital outposts. According to reports, the China Manned Space Administration has temporarily approved more than 1,000 scientific experiments on the space station. It is inviting foreign participation through the United Nations.
It remains to be seen what impact China’s space program and the country’s joint venture with Russia may have on the United States’ space exploration goals. But some experts believe that it may be time for the United States to find common ground to develop a more inclusive multinational space agenda.
However, for the time being, restrictive legislation makes this easier said than done. In 2011, Congress passed a law that included an additional clause called Wolf Amendment. The Wolfe Amendment, named after its mastermind and then Virginia Representative Frank Wolfe, prohibits NASA from using federal funds to conduct direct bilateral cooperation with the Chinese government.Since then, the potential repeal of the amendment has been a political football, among hawks eager to portray China as an emerging rival in space and less combative advocates hoping to use the country’s rapid rise in the field to benefit the United States. Vacillate
“I think we will see a mixture of cooperation and competition, possibly between two groups: one led by the United States and one led by China. This is not necessarily a bad thing,” George Washington University Elliott International Affairs Said John Logsdon, honorary professor of the college, founder and former long-term director of the University’s Institute of Space Policy. “After all [U.S. versus Soviet] The competition that brought us to the moon. There is competition between the United States and China for global leadership. “
Regarding the issue of China and Russia colluding with each other to establish an international lunar research station, Logsdon said that the U.S. response has so far been inconsistent. “Half the time, we complained [China’s and Russia’s] Lack of transparency.But when they clearly stated their plan, we were not happy,” he said. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, “Russia turned to the United States in 1993. [to help build the International Space Station] Save their space program. Now I think they are turning to China to do the same thing. “
Should we work more closely with China, perhaps starting with the abolition of the Wolfe Amendment? Logsdon thinks so, although he emphasized that many of his colleagues disagree. “This is a legitimate issue in policy debate,” he said. “Repeat the Wolfe Amendment in legislation every year is a convenient way to avoid this debate.” At present, Logsdon added that the United States should use diplomatic and scientific channels to test. In the future waters of cooperation with China, determine whether any partnership can be mutually beneficial, let alone possible. “China may-or we may-decide [to say] No,” he said. “But now we really can’t make this decision. “
Fundamentally, however, Logsdon rejects the assertion that China and the United States are destined to engage in another space race similar to the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. “Of course there is competition, but this is not a competition,” he said.
Case in space
Bill Nelson, the former senator from Florida and now the 14th director of NASA, will be the first to disagree. He said that the two countries are already engaged in a space race, and the United States must remain vigilant.
“I think we have a very aggressive China, I added, [a] It has been successful so far,” China, he said. “They said they would build a space station, and they did it. [They said they would] Bring back the moon samples, they have already done so. They are the second country to land and roam on Mars with robots. [And] They plan to wear boots on the moon. “
“They put it there… and then they usually follow up,” Nelson said. “China’s civilian space program is actually their military space program. That’s why I think we are going to have a space race with China.”
Even before arriving at NASA, Nelson was familiar with China’s space ambitions. For six years, he served as chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Space Subcommittee, and later as a senior member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation-in these two positions, comprehensive situational awareness of geopolitical space activities is essential.
Speaking of the prospect of cooperation with China, Nelson pondered how the situation in the former Soviet Union had evolved, which was once “our mortal enemy.” Part of the reason is that because each country has a huge nuclear arsenal and the threat of mutual assurance and destruction associated with it, the United States and the Soviet Union ended up in a deadlock in space, where cooperation rather than competition prevailed. The jointly built International Space Station-orbiting the earth every 90 minutes and manned by astronauts and astronauts for more than 20 years-is a brilliant example of what cooperation can be achieved. “On land, things are not like fish in the water… but in space they are,” he said.
This is also the relationship Nelson wants the United States to maintain with China. Unfortunately, he said, for now, the latter country’s preference for secrecy prevents any similar partnerships. Need more openness. “Leadership in space is about getting all nations to join you in a transparent way,” he said. However, if it chooses to cooperate with China on its space program, “it requires me to prove that it will not affect our national security. Therefore, we will deal with it according to the specific circumstances.”
One case may be the cooperation with China to promote the sharing of precious specimens from some countries in its recent and very successful Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission. Nelson said that under the Wolfe Amendment, as long as US researchers do not use any NASA funds and separate NASA-funded university projects from any China-related projects, US researchers will not be prohibited from requesting and receiving these lunar collections. .
Similarly, China’s Mars sample return plan is another future prospect. “Their Martian samples will return at the same time as ours, so this will be a great opportunity,” Nelson suggested.
Harmony in heaven?
Of course, even without meaningful cooperation, the newly announced space partnership between China and Russia can strengthen the US in many ways. For example, it may force the White House and Congress to open the floodgates of funds and inject funds into American civil and military aerospace projects, said Marcia Smith, a senior analyst at SpacePolicyOnline.com, an operating website. But whether this will generate enough funds to achieve the goal of NASA’s Artemis program—that is, returning astronauts to the moon as early as 2024—is another question. Smith said that the China-Russia Lunar Research Base is not expected to achieve a human landing on the moon until 2036 or later, “so this is not a race.”
Or, because the Wolfe Amendment does allow NASA to cooperate with China under certain very strict conditions, perhaps stronger cooperation still exists.
“If NASA can convince Congress [any] The proposed cooperation will not create the possibility of technology transfer, nor will it involve officials directly involved in human rights violations identified by the United States. It can be approved,” Smith said. “And it only restricts bilateral cooperation, not multilateral cooperation. Even so, she added that there is little space cooperation between NASA and China at the moment, and there is no sign that this situation will change anytime soon.
At the same time, the United States and Russia are still jointly responsible for maintaining and developing the decades-long multinational manned space exploration program that led to the creation of the International Space Station. Smith said that NASA hopes that Russia will not only continue to be a partner of the International Space Station, but will also help build a planned lunar gateway space station for the agency’s Artemis program.
“Maybe Russia will choose to cooperate with China and cooperate with multinational efforts led by the United States. But let the three coordinate their work to explore paradise? It is not without dramatic geopolitical changes. This is nowhere to be seen in my crystal ball,” Smith Concluded.
Deep Space Dynamics
Dean Cheng, a senior researcher for Chinese politics and security affairs at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center in Washington, DC, said that it is not clear how much space cooperation the two authoritarian systems can achieve. Actual cooperation is difficult,” he said.
“In any Russia-China space relationship, Russia seems to be a weaker partner,” Cheng added. “And Russia can’t handle the issue of being a weaker partner very well, whether it is with the West after the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, or it is very likely to have relations with China.”
He pointed out that the United States has done a good job in cooperating with other countries that have shown transparency, respect for intellectual property rights and the rule of law, involving human rights and national sovereignty-all of which are areas where tensions with China have erupted. The history of this conflict and the possibility that it will continue in the future makes Cheng skeptical of the two countries’ near-term hopes for cooperation in space.
Jim Hyde, a planetary scientist at Brown University, is a leading expert in the field of space exploration. He has multilateral cooperation with Russian and Chinese space scientists and his European colleagues to analyze the landing points of future interplanetary missions. He said that whether in conflict or in cooperation, China’s aspirations for space have always remained the same as they will not stop.
“China is on the’Silk Road’ to space,” Hyde quipped. “They are doing this; there is no doubt. Their space program is important to them, it builds national pride and prestige. It is not only good for science, but it is good for everything. [the nation does]. If we sit and bury our heads in the sand and do nothing by ourselves, they will still go. They are not waiting for us. “
Hyde said that China is close to the leading position in lunar science because it has proven that it can send samples to the near and far sides of the moon to return to the spacecraft, and “basically extract them like a sausage.”
Hyde suggested that instead of waiting for a major White House move to change the Wolfe Amendment, it is better to ask scientists to apply for an exception to Congress so that they can cooperate bilaterally with their Chinese counterparts on space projects, which may be more effective. The way forward may be through the Space Science Inter-Agency Consultative Group, an informal collective of researchers from major space agencies responsible for inter-agency coordination of selected tasks.
Hyde added that making China a signatory to the Artemis Agreement may also be a productive way. These agreements, led by the U.S. State Department and NASA, describe a vision of common principles based on the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, and aim to create a safe and transparent environment that promotes exploration, science, and commercial activities on the moon.At the time of writing, more than a dozen countries have accepted the Artemis Agreement: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, South Korea, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States
“The solar system is a big place. It would be stupid if we all copied everything individually. So collaboration, cooperation, coordination-I think this is definitely the way to go,” Hyde concluded.