WASHINGTON – Even the low-level, infrequent, non-committal discussions on space cooperation with China that NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said he would consider when he visited Beijing last fall are apparently out of the question in the wake of the furor over China’s Jan. 11 test of an anti-satellite (A-Sat) weapon.
During his visit,
‘s military space program and its record on weapons proliferation. He flatly ruled out any cooperation with
on human spaceflight in the foreseeable future, saying that kind of collaboration would have to take place “well down the road.”
and Chinese space agencies did agree to talk at least once a year and explore establishing working groups in a number of areas, including Earth science, climate research, robotic missions and sharing data from various science missions. “We believe that might be a productive thing to do, and we are going to explore it,”
Not any more.
Paula DeSutter, assistant U.S. secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation, said in an interview at the State Department Jan. 30 that any potential space cooperation between NASA and China “will probably need to be re-examined” in light of the A-Sat test.
NASA spokesman Jason Scott Sharp said in an e-mail that “no bi-lateral discussions were ongoing or planned either before or after
‘s anti-satellite test. The White House recently has said the
‘s development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the constructive relationship that our two presidents have outlined, including civil space cooperation.”
He referred all other questions to the State Department.
T.S. Kelso, who runs the CelesTrak Web site that provides public data about orbital debris, said that as of Feb. 2, NORAD was tracking 597 pieces of debris associated with the Chinese A-Sat test.
“To put the overall risk in some perspective, of the 3,150 payloads in Earth orbit or beyond, we have orbital data for 2,782 of those,” Kelso said in an e-mail. “Of the 2,782 payloads we do have data for, 1,860 payloads pass through the regime now affected by the debris from the Chinese A-Sat test.”
U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), whose position as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference puts him third in line in the minority party’s leadership, said he was disappointed that senior officials from the White House and other executive branch agencies have not responded more forcefully to the incident, calling their reaction so far “tepid.”
Kyl said he would like to see the development of offensive and defensive technologies to deal with anti-satellite weapons, including space-based systems that can disable or destroy enemy anti-satellite weapons, and space-based interceptors that could destroy a rocket carrying an anti-satellite payload during its ascent.
The Pentagon’s lack of robust funding it requests for work on anti-satellite weapons and space-based missile defenses makes it difficult for advocates for such systems on Capitol Hill to add money without opening themselves to the criticism of making earmarks to support pet projects, Kyl said.
If it fails to develop such systems, the
could have difficulty deterring Chinese aggression in the future and defend allies like
, Kyl said.
Improved space surveillance is also key to protecting
satellites, Kyl said. However, the Air Force has recently taken at least two significant steps backward on that front, including canceling the Orbital Deep Space Imager program, a satellite system intended to keep tabs on satellites in geosynchronous orbit, and significantly scaling back its planned 2008 funding request for upgrades to the ground-based radar tracking network known as the Space Fence, he noted.
Kyl also suggested that Congress hold hearings to investigate whether the Chinese A-Sat missile is not based on
technology – either shared or stolen. “If further export controls are needed to slow
‘s A-Sat development, then they should be considered,” Kyl said during his talk, which was carried on the C-SPAN television network.
DeSutter also dismissed Chinese officials who suggested that countries concerned about weapons is space should begin negotiating a new treaty. “
is simply calling again for meaningless and unverifiable arms control in an attempt to distract the international community and press away from its own inconsistency with international norms,” DeSutter said. “We must figure out how space assets can be protected by something more robust than a piece of paper.”