IAC2014 Day One: Camraderie, But Where Were Russia and China?

IAC2014 Day One: Camraderie, But Where Were Russia and China?

The 2014 International Astronautical Congress (IAC2014) kicked off in Toronto, Canada today (September 29).  The highlight was a panel of space agency heads from around the world, but the biggest space policy news was the absence of representatives from China and Russia.

The printed program included Xu Dazhe, Administrator of the China National Space Administration, and Denis Lyskov, Deputy Head of Russia’s Roscosmos (representing Roscosmos Head Oleg Ostapenko) as participants in a “Heads of Agencies” panel discussion this afternoon.   Instead, the panel included representatives only of the U.S., European, Japanese, Canadian, Indian and Mexican space agencies.

When asked how the panel could discuss international cooperation when two of the major space nations were missing, moderator Berndt Feuerbacher, a past president of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), emphasized that it was not what organizers had planned.   Both countries were unable to attend because of visa problems, he indicated.  During a later press conference, Walter Natynczyk, President of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), said he had no details on the nature of the visa problems.   He only learned about it 48 hours in advance, he added, and was not provided with any details from Canada’s foreign ministry, which handles such matters.

IAF is one of the three organizations that sponsors the annual IAC, which also includes the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) and the International Institute of Space Law (IISL).  The IAF, IAA and IISL presidents jointly proclaimed the beginning of IAC2014 after a two-hour opening ceremony that included three Canadian government astronauts and Cirque du Soleil performers.  Cirque du Soleil is a Canadian company whose founder, Guy Laliberté, is Canada’s first “spaceflight participant” or space tourist.  He flew to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2009 and is jokingly referred to as the “first clown in space” for wearing a clown’s nose during portions of the mission.  He appeared in a pre-recorded interview.  Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield, now retired, who rose to fame due to his social media outreach and rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity while aboard the ISS, rallied the troops at the end of the morning event.

During a press conference following the afternoon “Heads of Agencies” panel session, reporters attempted to elicit information from NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden on Sierra Nevada’s protest of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contract and whether the protest could affect work by Boeing and SpaceX, the two companies selected for the contract.  Bolden answered firmly that he was not allowed to comment while the protest is underway.

A few news tidbits did emerge from the panel discussion and press conference.   Noaki Okumura, President of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), said in response to a question that the Japanese government will not decide until 2016 whether to agree with NASA’s proposal to extend the life of the ISS to 2024.   CSA’s Natynczyk said the Canadian government has agreed to funding through 2020.  CSA’s focus now is to maximize life sciences research on ISS and will examine the value proposition of that research before asking the government for an extension.   Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA), said that ESA is still deciding on NASA’s previous request to extend operations to 2020, a topic that will be on the agenda of ESA’s December 2014 ministerial meeting.  Only once that decision is formally made by ESA’s member states will it consider the new request.

Also on the agenda of ESA’s December ministerial meeting is what new launcher ESA should build.  Dordain stressed that, in his opinion, ESA needs a family of launchers, but exactly what ESA will do is a decision to be made by the member states, not by him.  When asked whether the decisions on extending ISS and on a new launcher might conflict, with the ministers choosing one or the other, Dordain said no, they are not in competition with each other.    It is not an a la carte menu, he joked, but “cheese AND dessert.”

Dordain indicated that ESA cooperation with Russia has not been impacted by sanctions imposed on Russia by European countries because of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.  Bolden added that ISS demonstrates that countries can cooperate together in space even when geopolitical tensions on Earth flare.

Bolden was asked about recent comments by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin that Russia is planning to spend $8 billion on ISS through 2025 and whether that is a signal that Russia is, in fact, committed to extending ISS.  Bolden replied that 2025 is the end of their budget cycle and a budget request for that cycle has been submitted to Russia’s Duma.  That is all.   “You shouldn’t read too much into it,” he cautioned.

K. Radhakrishnan, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), was awarded the IAF’s prestigious Allan D. Emil Award at the opening ceremony this morning, and received accolades during the panel session for ISRO’s successful Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), which entered orbit around Mars last week.  Four of MOM’s five scientific instruments already have been switched on, he said, and images are being returned from MOM’s camera.  Radhakrishnan spoke of the broad array of space activities ISRO is planning for the remainder of the decade, including space science, but India’s main focus continues to be space applications including navigation and communications.

Francisco Javier Mendieta Jimenéz, Director General of the recently established Mexican Space Agency, spoke enthusiastically about Mexico’s plans in space, which will focus in the near term on earth observation for disaster management.  Stressing that Mexico is an emerging economy, he explained that three crucial elements of the Mexican space program will be technology transfer, training, and capacity building.   Mexico will host the 2016 IAC.

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