China’s Asia-Pacific ‘Space Pivot’

Excluded by U.S. Congressional enactment from participating in the missions of the International Space Station, and in order to further development of its space science and industry, China is planning to build its own space station in the early 2020s. It has escaped no one’s attention that at the same time, it is possible that the ISS will reach the end of its life, and China will be the only option for human space exploration. China has also been excluded from space exploration international planning activities, which culminated in the recent release of the multi-lateral Space Exploration Roadmap. As China National Space Administration director, Ma Xingrui, said during the Sept. 23 opening ceremony of the on-going International Astronautical Congress in Beijing, he “does not see any problem” in China joining these international future planning activities, but “an invitation has not been issued.”

Over the past week, as part of its international outreach, China has offered to train and fly foreign astronauts on its future Shenzhou spacecraft, and has offered scientists the opportunity to fly their experiments on its pre-station Tiangong orbiting modules, and then later, the permanently-manned station. The French are already in discussions with China to send their future astronauts. But China is also extending its space technology and expertise to the non-space nations of the Asia-Pacific region, creating a regional space development presence.

The Chinese-initiated Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization, (APSCO) began formal operation in 2008, and currently its Member States are Bangladesh, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru, Thailand, and Turkey. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Tajikistan have applied for membership. The Member states are considering an array of 13 space research and technology projects. In an interview with 21st Century Science & Technology, Dr. Maqbool Chaudry, who heads APSCO’s strategic planning, described one proposal under consideration, which is research on precursor ionospheric signatures for earthquake prediction. This would include ground-based sounding instruments, and potentially a satellite payload to study ionospheric characteristics and electromagnetc changes for seismic precursors. Other candidates focus on specific characteristic of the region, which, in addition to its proneness to earthquakes, suffer from intense tropical rains, which interfere with satellite communications.

APSCO has now started an extensive education and training program, with students from each of its Member states, and Dr. Chaudry said all of the Member states have expressed an interest in having their astronauts fly on the Shenzhou.

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