US Eyes Bigger Partnership with China on Space

The Air Force shows an artist's depiction of the Space Based Space Surveillance satellite. The Joint Space Operations Center uses data collected from SBSS to track orbiting objects in geostationary and low earth orbit, providing space situational awareness to U.S. military and commercial space users. Could the U.S. work with China on similar programs in the future? (photo via AF.mil)The Air Force shows an artist's depiction of the Space Based Space Surveillance satellite. The Joint Space Operations Center uses data collected from SBSS to track orbiting objects in geostationary and low earth orbit, providing space situational awareness to U.S. military and commercial space users. Could the U.S. work with China on similar programs in the future? (photo via AF.mil)

As NASA scientists aim to cooperate on research with their Chinese counterparts, more communication between the agencies may not be such a bad idea — a partnership that might even bolster space agreements, officials say.  

Speaking at a DefenseOne Space, Satellite and Communications briefing Tuesday near Washington, D.C., Brian Weeden, technical adviser to the Secure World Foundation, said the scope of how the U.S. works with China needs to expand.

While space wasn’t a dominant topic in this year’s election, Weeden said both Trump and Clinton campaign surrogates publicized “fairly favorably some sort of cooperation engagement with China.”

Weeden said it’s unknown whether those favorable views toward China in the space realm will translate into hard policy under President-Elect Donald Trump. “But I think there is … a growing sense that having the only interaction with China [be] in a national security, military context — I think is a problem,” he said during a discussion.

Weeden said there needs to be “commercial or civil engagement” to help deal with additional challenges, such as managing space traffic and debris control.

Since 2011, Congress has banned NASA from joint research and technology programs or data sharing with China even though the U.S. and Russia have had a robust association, even in times of conflict.

However, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has been trying to build bridges with China on a space program. In August, he visited China and met with the Chinese Aeronautical Establishment and the Civil Aviation Administration. The next month, NASA announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding with those agencies to analyze data from Chinese airports “to identify potential efficiencies in air traffic management.”

It may not be space, but it’s a start.

“It’s not going to happen during my tenure as NASA administrator,” Bolden said in May while addressing spaceflight and technological agreements with China. “But I think we will evolve to something reasonable.”

The DefenseOne panel also featured Winston Beauchamp, director of the principal Department of Defense Space Adviser Staff and Air Force deputy under secretary for Space; Chirag Parikh, director of source strategies, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency;  and Robert Tarleton, director of the MILSATCOM Systems Directorate, Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base.

About the Author

Oriana Pawlyk
Oriana Pawlyk is a reporter for Military.com. She can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.