CNSA Chief Says China Would Gladly Join Global Space Roadmapping Group if Asked

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BEIJING — The head of China’s space program on Sept. 23 said his government is willing to join an existing multilateral effort to chart future space exploration goals and awaits only an invitation to do so.

Ma Xingrui, administrator of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), said China has signed bilateral space accords with several dozen nations but has yet to join the multinational International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG).

ISECG, whose members include most other spacefaring nations, is assembling a Global Exploration Roadmap whose goal is to reduce duplication in what most nations agree will be an endeavor too costly for any nation acting alone.

China’s spectacular leap forward in space technology in general, and manned space efforts in particular, was one of the principal topics here Sept. 23 during the 64th International Astronautical Congress (IAC).

As China has progressed on its strategy to develop independent expertise in manned flight and multiple other space technology domains, its leaders have sought to stress China’s willingness to join international efforts and to welcome non-Chinese nations to the Chinese program.

Most recently, Chinese authorities said the manned space station they intend to build in low Earth orbit would be open to non-Chinese astronauts to perform research there.

Asked why China has not signed on as a member of ISECG, Ma said China would welcome full membership on receipt of an invitation.

“I don’t see any problem if the organization is willing to invite us,” Ma said here during a panel discussion featuring high-ranking officials from the U.S., European, Russian, Japanese, Canadian and Indian space agencies.

“Perhaps an invitation has not been issued, or perhaps it was issued not in the best of times,” Ma said.

One non-Chinese government official said China is already an observer to the ISECG work and that it was China, not ISECG, which in the past had resisted China’s joining as a full member.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who regularly fields questions about the apparent U.S. government policy of hostility to China’s space efforts during annual conferences like IAC, said nothing in U.S. policy would prevent China’s becoming a full ISECG member.

Bolden said that as far as he was concerned, China was already a part of the ISECG process.

All of the heads of agencies agreed that one of the major problems confronting them in the coming years is the accumulation of space debris in low Earth orbit.

But they also all agreed that an international effort to remove the larger, more dangerous pieces of debris — dead satellites and rocket stages — was not a high enough priority for any of them to push the idea forward.

“Regrettably, it does not rise to the level where we’re organizing a mission to clean out low Earth orbit,” Bolden said.

Asked what their biggest challenges were in the next 12 months, five of the agencies — China, Japan, Russia, India and Europe — mentioned new launch vehicles — and, in Russia’s case, the new spaceport at Vostochny — as their biggest issues.

China is developing a Long March 5 rocket that will carry 25,000 kilograms of payload into low Earth orbit and 15,000 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit, the destination of most communications satellites — “a daunting challenge we hope to overcome,” Ma said.

Japan is developing a less-expensive successor to its H-2B rocket, and this will be a key development in the immediate future, said Naoki Okumura, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. 

Russia’s Angara series is one of that nation’s highest space priorities, said Sergei Saveliev, deputy head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency.

India, which has developed its own medium-lift rocket, the successful Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, has struggled with the heavy-lift Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) designed be able to carry midsize telecommunications satellites to geostationary orbit. A successful GSLV launch is one of the nation’s highest space priorities, said S. Ramakrishnan, director of the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Vikram Sarabhai Space Center.

Jean-Jacques Dordain, head of the 20-nation European Space Agency (ESA), said his top priorities include presenting ESA’s governments in 2014 with credible options for an upgrade to the current European heavy-lift rocket, and a new-generation Ariane 6 vehicle.

Bolden said his highest priority is convincing the American people, and the U.S. Congress, of the merits of the NASA budget proposed by U.S. President Barack Obama. Sufficient funding is the sine qua non of NASA’s current program, he said.