Out of This World: China and the EU Propose Joint Space Missions

Published on Author mcdonaldp16

The European Union and China are currently proposing a joint project to explore the “Dark Ages” of the Universe, aimed to launch 2021. The proposed mission is called Discovering the Sky at the Longest Wavelengths, or DSL, and it involves a series of satellites around the moon to essentially look back into time, before the first stars were even born. How that exactly will be achieved is beyond my elementary level of understanding the celestial bodies (and eons beyond the scope of this course). That being said, it still holds significance when examining EU-China relations.

nature-eu-china-spaceThis is not the first time that China and the EU have collaborated on a space mission – EU scientists helped fund China’s Double Star mission back in 2003 – but this will be the first to be jointly-run from its inception. The DSL project is actually one of 15 proposals by the European Space Agency and the Chinese Academy of Scientists. Others include an X-Ray imager to study Earth’s magnetosphere and an extreme-ultraviolet telescope to observe “hot objects” in the Milky Way.

One challenge faced by the DSL project is the strict export regulations of US-made parts for Chinese space missions. Because of this, Heino Falcke, an astrophysicist at Radboud University in the Netherlands and principal investigator for the DSL mission, said that “a Chinese–American mission would have been impossible.” Another limit to the mission is funding. Currently, the ESA plans to contribute more than €50 million, and China plans to match that investment. All 15 of the proposed projects will be reviewed and evaluated based on their feasibility and scientific merit. By the years’ end the projects will be narrowed down to a select few, which will then undergo another two-year phase of study. Ultimately, the green light will be given to the winner in 2017.

Source (article and picture): http://www.nature.com/news/china-and-eu-pore-over-proposals-for-joint-space-mission-1.17133

2 Responses to Out of This World: China and the EU Propose Joint Space Missions

  1. The two limitations you mentioned, stringent US-China export regulations on manufactured parts for space missions, and difficulties in funding, are particularly interesting.

    As for the first, it seems that the U.S. and China have a pattern of butting heads when it comes to interstellar operations. China has been developing a space station program to be implemented in 2028, roughly the same time the International Space Station is to be decommissioned. China has invited several nations to participate in the space station development project, but the U.S. does not appear to have received the invite. The political implications of this decision are up for interpretation.

    Secondly, China is on pace to outspend the U.S. on scientific research and development by the end of the decade. Whether or not the budget allocations to R&D will prevail given the recent weakening of the Chinese economy is a topic of debate. But as of now, it appears that China has the upper hand in future space exploration and is determined to use its own funds and the funds of its supporters to maintain this upward trend.

    In other words, Cold War II is on the horizon, Patrick.


  2. The technical content is indeed eons prior to the scope of the course — not just millennia. Anyway, for Big Science €50 million is small stuff, and there are many possible things that can go wrong (or get repeatedly delayed) between now and 2021. Still, 6 years may not be all that long a lead time for developing one-off items that have to pass stringent tests, some of which will find flaws that lead to re-engineering and a new cycle of tests.

    Let’s hope we don’t see a new Cold War; the export controls are a legacy of the Soviet era that refuses to go away, and instead has been updated for nuclear non-proliferation. Such policies don’t work very well even with countries that are strapped for resources in general, such as North Korea. While we don’t want to make it easy for such countries, the policy rationale is awfully weak, and the targeting is poor – numbers of European firms have been caught helping their customers circumvent controls, which required active cooperation to falsify paperwork so that goods could get sent to one or another country we didn’t like.