As arguably the third most powerful space agency in the world, the China National Space Administration, which already has successful manned launches and a confirmed spacewalk under its belt, continues its determined drive starward. In early October, the CNSA signed a cooperative space plan with Russia for the 2010-2012 timeframe, the contents of which are being held close to the vest but no doubt include the joint Russian-Chinese exploration and sample-return mission (Fobos-Grunt) to the Martian moon Phobos next year.
Now, as reported last week, China recently announced (confirmed) plans for a series of orbital space stations, beginning with the launch of an unmanned test module within the next five years and a fully-crewed, Mir-style station by the year 2020.
This places proposed CNSA activities right in the thick of NewSpace (e.g., U.S., U.K., Russian,) commercial space station and launch vehicle flight tests. Now, it’s no secret that advanced space technology has dual military applications, and China’s military made everyone nervous with their anti-satellite (ASAT) test in 2007. So, what are their intentions? I’d like to believe the olive branches on CNSA’s logo are sincere.
-And, I should mention, if U.S.-Soviet space relations during the height of the Cold War are any precedent (Apollo-Soyuz), China’s space laboratory ambitions are sincerely peaceful. Some of the most meaningful international olive branches have been traded in space. Take the International Space Station, for example, which is the largest international cooperative effort in human history. So, in that light, Godspeed CNSA. The more permanent presences we have in orbit, the better it is for our space infrastructure in general.
And perhaps, working shoulder-to-shoulder off-world, the most effective Far-East/West bridges yet may be built in orbit.