China and the UN open future Chinese space station to international research


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China the the UN’s Office for Outer Space Affairs will soon announce a partnership for soliciting proposals from the international community for research projects to be performed on China’s upcoming space station.

UNOOSA and CMSA will work together to solicit proposals for payloads and experiments for the space station from scientists all over the world, with projects to be decided by international selection committees. UNOOSA Director Simonetta Di Pippo, in comments provided to gbtimes, stated that: “We expect that the first announcement for project proposals should come in late 2016 or early 2017. Other activities will be undertaken as the environment for their implementation becomes ready.”

The 20-tonne core module of the Chinese Space Station (CSS) is expected to be launched in 2018, with the addition of two experiment modules to complete facility around 2022. “While the space station is being made operational, UNOOSA and CMSA will prepare to call for technical proposals from entities worldwide for the design of experiments to take place on-board the station,” Ms Di Pippo said.

While open to all, the initiative will focus especially on developing nations as part of the UN’s Human Space Technology Initiative (HSTI) which aims to involve more countries in space activities and encourage non-spacefaring countries space research and to benefit from space applications.

The agreement is a good one, but its goal is not entirely altruistic on China’s part. In the article it is clear they are trying to score some propaganda points against the U.S., which by law bars China from ISS and any other U.S./China space partnership because of their bad habit of stealing technology for military purposes. With this UN partnership they are immediately claiming that they are “more open and democratic” than the U.S., as stated in the article. The claim is a lie, however. Just like the U.S. they will surely reject any international proposals they consider a security risk. They simply will, with the UN’s cooperation, be less public about it.

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3 comments

  • Andrew Jones

    “but its goal is not entirely altruistic on China’s part” — Quite right there. One thought I had was that China might think very carefully about, say, an Indian proposal for its astronauts to visit CSS, as that would provide a large regional rival the political and other benefits from human spaceflight. It will be interesting to follow this.

  • Andrew Jones: As the author of the article that I linked to, I should let you know that as a fellow science writer, it seemed to me that you spun the story a bit too much in favor of China. The point I made in my post, to which you agree with in your comment, would have been perfectly appropriate to mention in your article. You did not, instead allowing China’s propaganda point to go completely unchallenged.

  • Andrew Jones

    Thanks for the reply, Robert. Beyond the quotes, and how the mechanism of the agreement, I meant only to add some context and the wider issues. I did not state that China in anyway is more open or democratic in its approach (note the punctuation of the term), but mean to suggest these optics are a motivation, which could be important for leadership in space, particularly with regards the global South. I accept, though, that this part could have been dealt with more nuance and clarity.

    The point about India in my comment is speculative, and thus not included – things can quickly get complicated and the article runs on forever. But it is the kind of issue I will be following up – through interviews – in the New Year when the announcement of opportunity is made. It’s a very interesting matter and I will be finding more time than I had here to deal with it. Thanks.

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