Global Economic Woes Mean More International Space Cooperation, Should Include China, Say International Space Reps

Global Economic Woes Mean More International Space Cooperation, Should Include China, Say International Space Reps

Representatives of Japanese and European space agencies told a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) audience yesterday about the difficult economic conditions facing their space programs, like that here in the United States, and how international cooperation is key to moving forward — and China should be part of it.

Norimitsu Kamimori, head of the Washington office of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) explained the constrained funding for his civil space agency, pointing out that some plans, like future robotic lunar exploration, have been put on hold. And while Japan would like to cooperate more with the United States on earth science missions, funding shortfalls make that difficult.

Andreas Diekmann, Juergen Drescher, and Emmanuel di Lipkowski, the Washington representatives of the European Space Agency (ESA), Germany’s space agency, DLR, and France’s space agency, CNES, respectively, sounded a similar theme about the outlook for funding for their space activities. They are hopeful that the European Union (EU) will provide more funding for space activities now that it has an official role in space policy thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, which went into force in December 2009. They believe that space programs will benefit from the higher-level political attention accorded to EU activities.

International cooperation will be essential to realizing future plans, they said, especially in human exploration. Mr. di Lipkowski said that “None of us question the need for American leadership in space.” In response to a question about China’s role in future international space activities, all four endorsed the idea. Mr. Kamimori pointed out that China is Japan’s neighbor and they already have established a cooperative relationship, especially through the Asia Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF), created in 1993 after the 1992 International Space Year. Mr. Diekmann added that ESA has had cooperative programs with China in space science and that China participates in the International Space Exploration Coordination (ISEC) working group of countries discussing future human space exploration. Mr. Drescher said that NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden’s ongoing trip to China is an “important cornerstone to keep stability and understand where we are.” Mr. di Lipkowski added that China, with its population and economy, cannot be ignored and “we have to bring them into the tent to see how we do things.”

The four were members of a panel organized by CSIS’s Ashley Bander to discuss “The Year Ahead in Space.” All four praised the International Space Station (ISS), but emphasized that it is essential that the facility be put to good use now that so much has been spent on building it. Mr. Drescher and Mr. di Lipkowski warned that potential users may be lost because they do not want to deal with the layers of bureaucracy or lengthy time frames for getting an experiment on orbit. “We have to prove that this laboratory can deliver and not be a white elephant,” Mr. di Lipkowski asserted. Mr. Drescher added that “we have to rewrite” the book of “how to access ISS and give it to the scientists.” Mr. Diekmann, however, said he would not “paint such a dark picture” of ISS utilization given that assembly has just been completed and a full crew complement only recently became available to conduct science experiments. ESA, he said, has a strong utilization plan and user community for ISS.

As to whether ISS is a good model for future international space projects, Mr. di Lipkowski noted that the ISS cooperative framework was developed during the Cold War and a new model will be needed for the current era of international relationships. Offering an impassioned defense of human spaceflight activities, he stressed that “We are living in terrible economic times. We can’t do what Apollo did. My message is that we have to cooperate.” Ruing the fact that younger people today are not very interested in space activities even though it is one of the few sources of “positive” news, he emphasized that what is needed is new governance and export control models and a vision “or we will go nowhere.” “We have to sell us, the space community, to the political community and not think that everything we do is marvelous and brilliant.” He added that people need to understand that space is not expensive in the overall scheme of things, that in the United States, for example, NASA is only 0.6 percent of the federal budget. Mr. Diekmann said that space applications are the top priority in Europe exactly because the benefits are more visible to the public.

The panel also emphasized the need for balance between robotic and human spaceflight, and among exploration, space science, and “managing Earth” using earth science satellites.

Closer collaboration with the United States on new space transportation systems was another theme. “That doesn’t mean we have to build a common launcher,” Mr. Diekmann said, “but we need common interfaces for a more intelligent combination of capabilities,” that is, a “common space transportation policy.”

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.