Chinese Government Official Urges U.S.-Chinese Space Cooperation

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A top Chinese government space official on April 14 appealed to the U.S. government to lift its decade-long ban on most forms of U.S.-Chinese space cooperation, saying both nations would benefit from closer government and commercial space interaction.

He specifically called for cooperation on manned spaceflight, in which China has made massive investment in recent years.

Lei Fanpei, vice president of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), which oversees much of China’s launch vehicle and satellite manufacturing industry, said China purchased more than $1 billion in U.S.-built satellites in the 1990s before the de facto ban went into effect in 1999.

Since then, the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) have made it impossible to export most satellite components, or full satellites, to China for launch on China’s now successful line of Long March rockets.

The ITAR regulations that tightened the U.S. technology export regime were put into place to punish China for its missile exports, and to slow development of China’s rocket industry by reducing its customer base. Most commercial telecommunications satellites carry at least some U.S. parts, which is why ITAR has all but locked China out of the global commercial launch market.

The U.S. government is reviewing the current ITAR regime, which U.S. industry says has had the unintended effect of making it difficult to sell satellites and satellite components just about anywhere in the world.

At the same time, China’s domestic demand for launches of its own telecommunications, navigation, Earth observation and science satellites — and its manned space program — has given the Long March vehicle sufficient business to earn it a record of reliability.

The global insurance underwriting community now ranks the Long March vehicle alongside Russian and European rockets for reliability when it sets insurance premiums.

Addressing the National Space Symposium here, Lei said Chinese vehicles launched more than 20 U.S.-built satellites in the 1990s.

While cooperation with the United States has been shut down, he said, China has maintained relations with the 18-nation European Space Agency, Brazil, France, Russia and others. China also has developed a telecommunications satellite product line that has been bundled with a Chinese Long March vehicle to offer in-orbit delivery of telecommunications spacecraft to a half-dozen nations that in many cases can offer China access to their crude oil reserves.

Lei said he sees three areas in which U.S.-Chinese cooperation would be in both nations’ interests. The first, he said, is an open commercial access of each nation to the other’s capabilities in satellites and launch vehicles. The second, he said, is manned spaceflight and space science, particularly in deep space exploration. The third is in satellite applications including disaster monitoring and management.