Now that China has its Tiangong-1 space station in orbit, the rising space power has a great bargaining chip for concluding cooperative agreements with other nations. This week, China signed a deal with Italy that could see the Italians helping to build future Chinese space stations and flying their astronauts to them.
Italian Space Agency (ASI) President Enrico Saggese was in Beijing on Wednesday to sign a cooperative agreement with China National Space Administration (CNSA) President Chen Qiufa. The deal covers science and exploration, space transportation, Earth observation, telecommunications, satellite navigation, and education, according to an ASI press release.
The statement continues (via Google Translate):
During its stay in Beijing, the ASI delegation had the opportunity to meet with the presidents of CAST (China Academy of Space Technology) and CASC (China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation), China’s largest industrial corporations in the aerospace field. It also visited the home of the Chinese Space Station (China Manned Space Engineering Office – CMSEO), which is preparing Shenzhou-9 and 10, which reach the Tiangong module in 2012 and 2013.
CMSEO, President Wang Wenbao invited ASI to collaborate in the Chinese space station, noting the Italian technology on the International Space Station and, in particular, the pressurized modules on the ISS.
ASI and CMSEO expressed the desire to see Italian and Chinese astronauts working together on the space station itself in the future.
I would expect to see a lot more of these agreements in the future as China, like the U.S. and Soviet Union before it, exploits the diplomatic and technological advantages of having a human presence in space.