Reporter Journal / Chris Davis

Space program boosted at anniversary

(China Daily) Updated: 2016-04-28 11:39

China's space program seems to be heating up. Two days before officially designating China Space Day April 24 (the date of China's first satellite launch in 1970), Xu Dazhe, director of the China National Space Administration, announced that China aims to become a global aerospace power by 2030.

Xu said it was all part of the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) to drive aerospace growth and have China play an active role in rule-making in new fields such as the internet, deep sea and polar areas and outer space.

Despite being banned by US law from working with NASA on any manned outer space activities, China has been an active member of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) since 2006. It's an international forum set up by 14 space agencies based on mutual interests, shared technologies and trying to map a common, cohesive roadmap into the future for all of mankind's ventures into outer space.

The ISECG makes a compelling argument for the ideal of working together, breaking the benefits into three categories: innovation, culture and inspiration, and new ways to address global challenges.

The innovations that have come about from space exploration are too many to count. From solar panels and implantable heart monitors to light weight materials, improved computing systems and a global search-and-rescue system. Every new door opened in space lays out new domains for research and development. Power generation, recycling waste and water management, advanced robotics, health and medicine all can have an immediate impact back on Earth.

Every minute exploring outer space, ISECG argues, also helps develop a new perspective on our place in the Universe, generating fresh new data to help answer the age-old questions about the nature of the Universe. Are we and our planet unique and is our destiny to remain earthbound forever. Is there anyone else out there?

The big dream of getting all nations working together in space is that the cooperation will extend back down to Earth. Trust developed through space co-exploration can also be turned to solving global problems like the environment, pandemics, natural disasters and something as scary as a runaway asteroid with us in its crosshairs.

Although China has made great headway, Xu said, "The United States and Russia are ahead of us, and Europe also has advanced technology."

China seems intent on catching up. Xu said China will complete a current roster of aerospace projects in about the next five years, including manned space programs, lunar probes, the Beidou Navigation Satellite System and the Gaofen observation satellite program.

By around 2025, China will complete construction of national civilian space infrastructure, Xu added.

According to a plan issued last year, China will build a civilian space infrastructure system including satellite remote sensing, satellite communication and broadcasting, satellite navigation and positioning.

On China Space Day itself on Sunday, no less than Yang Liwei, China's first astronaut, reiterated his country's openness to space cooperation with all nations including the United States.

"China will not rule out cooperating with any country, and that includes the United States," Yang said.

Payloads are already being reserved by foreign astronauts projects in the Chinese space station, due to enter service around 2022, said Yang, adding that China was also happy to train or co-train astronauts for other countries.

The US-dominated International Space Station (ISS), which has yet to welcome China aboard, is scheduled to end its service in 2024, two years after China's space station is scheduled to be up and running. The overlap there - two major space stations orbiting for two years - presents, one would think, a golden opportunity to teach the world about win-win cooperation.

Chinese docking technology is compatible with the Russian components of the ISS because China got its docking technology from Russia, according to John Logsdon, founder and former director of the Space Policy Institute at The George Washington University.

Presumably, whatever spacecraft delivers Chinese astronauts to the Chinese station, could also give someone a ride to the ISS and the Russian Soyuz - right now the only way to get to and from the ISS, would be able to dock at the China station. Or shuttle back and forth?

Are we seeing a new opportunity for Uber and Lyft here?

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