China is undoubtedly one of the biggest players in space today, with successful missions to the moon and Mars and a solar probe to be launched soon. Its rise has sparked competition with the United States; “Watch the ChineseNASA Administrator Bill Nelson warned recently. Given the strategic value that the two nations attach to their space programs and the political tensions that already exist between the countries, the race for space achievements is likely to intensify.
Despite the tensions, the United States and China must find a way to cooperate on some, if not all, issues related to space use. The most critical area is the security of space infrastructure, where a lack of communication can be harmful and possibly even deadly. This need was emphasized by the recent saga on an almost gap between two of Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites and the Chinese space station with a crew in development. Although Starlink spacecraft are privately owned, the US government is internationally responsible for their space activities under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.
However, there are serious barriers to tete-a-tete – including the fact that some types of cooperation are illegal. Wolf’s fix prohibits NASA from using government funds to cooperate with the Chinese government and organizations associated with China. However, this legislation does not block all possibilities for cooperation, such as the exchange of information on the orbits of man-made space objects through agencies such as North American Aerospace Command. In the case of Starlink satellites, US officials said they had found that the spacecraft did not pose a risk to the Chinese space station. However, China disagreed and adjusted the station’s orbit to be safe. Cases like this could be better resolved in the future through direct communication.
Both nations will continue to rely on space infrastructure for civil, commercial and national security purposes. The United States has 2,944 th most common satellites, more than half of the world’s total number of operating satellites. That means you have the most to lose from satellite collisions and risks of space debris. China also has a large collection, along with shipping plans a significant number of satellites to low Earth orbit over the next few years. The risks are growing from what the UN calls “congested, contested and competitive”Space and meets the interests of both parties to undertake constructive dialogues on how to keep orbital passages safe.
But the road ahead may not be smooth. The United States has accused China of exacerbating the problem, especially during Chinese anti – satellite test from 2007 which created more than 150,000 pieces of space debris. Because everything in orbit is moving so fast, a collision between a few debris and a spaceship can be catastrophic. And yet, a year later, the United States shot down its own satellite, although this event created fewer and shorter-lived debris as the interception occurred at a lower altitude, so the pieces burned faster in the Earth’s atmosphere. .
Despite the sharpness, both sides seem to agree on some important legal rules applicable to space. For example, in the recent White paperChina says it is using outer space “for peaceful purposes.” Although this statement is open to interpretation, similar language is also widely used in US space policy documents and even 2020 of the Space Forces doctrine. The fact that there is some ambiguity in the term could be a good starting point for both sides to start a dialogue on whether anti-satellite tests, for example, are a peaceful activity. Although it is defensive in nature and not a military act, it can pose a threat to others by creating more space debris.
China appears eager to participate in the international space-building process within the United Nations, according to a recent White Paper. In reality, China can only achieve this goal through open and constructive engagement with other stakeholders. Promisingly, in February, when asked about the dangers posed by Starlink satellites to the Chinese space station, a Chinese spokesman said readiness to establish a long-term communication mechanism with the United States to protect the safety of astronauts and the space station.
But continuing finger pointing can hold both sides. For example, the United States and China recently exchanged diplomatic fire with the United States unilateral commitment to stop all tests of anti-satellite missiles. Although this move could seriously reduce the future creation of space debris, the United States did so only by blaming Russia and China for their previous tests. Not surprisingly, China responded by asking the United States. “to fully reflect its negative movements in space”
In order to make real progress, both sides need to adopt a “think big, start small” approach. As there is a lack of mutual trust between the two countries at this stage, it would be unrealistic to expect an agreement on space security in general. By tackling smaller issues, such as communication rules, when a manned space station is at risk of collision, the two sides can more easily find common interests and are more likely to work together. So they can find out mutual trust in this process and over time expand their cooperation in other areas of space.