China Looks for Help Building Space Station; NASA is Outsider Looking In

The crew of Shenzhou-10 after 15 days in space. (Credit: CNSA)
The crew of Shenzhou-10 after 15 days in space. (Credit: CNSA)

China is looking for partners on its space station, whose core module is set to launch in 2018:

China is soliciting international participation in its future manned space station in the form of foreign modules that would attach to the three-module core system, visits by foreign crew-transport vehicles for short stays and the involvement of non-Chinese researchers in placing experiments on the complex, the chief designer of China’s manned space program said Oct. 12….

The Chinese orbital station, consisting of a core module and two experiment-carrying modules, can be expanded to a total of six modules if international partners want to invest in their own components, said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the China Manned Space Program at the China Manned Space Agency.

Addressing the 66th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) here, Zhou said the station will have a nominal crew of three, with a maximum capacity of six, with three-member crews being launched aboard Chinese Long March 2F rockets from the Jiuquan spaceport for missions of up to six months.

China has signed initial space station cooperation agreements with the Russian and European space agencies, and while the European Space Agency has begun training astronauts in Chinese, there is no specific plan yet to send astronauts to the Chinese facility.

Zhou said the space station will be ready for full operations around 2022.

Meanwhile, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said he hoped the ban on NASA cooperating with China in space would be only temporary:

The United States should include China in its human space projects or face being left out of new ventures to send people beyond the International Space Station, NASA chief Charles Bolden said on Monday.

Since 2011, the US space agency has been banned by Congress from collaborating with China, due to human rights issues and national security concerns.

China is not a member of the 15-nation partnership that owns and operates the station, a permanently staffed research laboratory that flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, but Bolden says working China will be necessary in the future.

During a heads of space agencies panel at the International Astronautical Congress, he said he believed the ban was temporary.

“The reason I think that where we are today is temporary is because of a practical statement that we will find ourselves on the outside looking in, because everybody … who has any hope of a human spaceflight programme … will go to whoever will fly their people,” Bolden said.