Long March models on display

China Space Station will belong to the world, says ambassador

Image credit: Dreamstime

China has announced that its future orbital space station will be open to all UN member states to use for experimentation, particularly for developing countries without established space agencies.

The China Space Station (CSS) is a space station under development by China’s space agency. It will weigh approximately a fifth of the International Space Station (ISS), and is due for launch in 2019. According to Xinhua, China’s state-owned news agency, it could be operational by 2022.

The CSS will be made up of a core module and two modules for experimentation, and can house up to three astronauts at once. A number of challenges remain before the CSS can begin operations: most notably the launch of the core module on the Long March 5 rocket. While its maiden launch in November 2016 was successful, its second launch, in July 2017, resulted in failure. However, it is expected to be operational by the scheduled launch of the CSS next year.

Now, all United Nations member states have been invited to participate in the CSS project.

“CSS belongs not only to China, but also to the world,” said Shi Zhongjun, China’s ambassador to the UN, according to Xinhua. “All countries, regardless of their size and level of development, can participate in the cooperation on an equal footing.”

He added that, as a developing country, China was ready to work with other developing countries in order to build their space programmes. He cited the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which forbids colonisation of extra-terrestrial resources and placing of weapons of mass destruction in space, essentially establishing that space exploration should be a peaceful and collaborative venture.

“Through the vehicle of [the] CSS, we would like to build up a model of sincere mutual beneficial cooperation among countries in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space.”

According to Shi, interested public and private organisations are invited to suggest collaborations that could take place on the space station, such as the growth of plants in space, or the accommodation of an astronaut. These organisations could use the experiment facilities installed inside the CSS, or use their own equipment inside or outside the CSS.

The open offer is a significant gesture of soft power as China establishes its role as a major space presence alongside the US and Russia, which have dominated for decades. As US President Donald Trump’s administration looks to axe direct financial support for ISS activities – and even considers how it could be privatised – the establishment of a semi-permanent presence in low Earth orbit by China is particularly well timed.

Nasa is legally prohibited from direct involvement with China’s space programme, in order to prevent technology transfer to China. However, the European Space Agency (ESA) has a partnership with the Chinese Space Agency which will probably enable ESA astronauts to visit the CSS following its launch.

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