China invites the world to use its future space station

30 May 2018

Earth as seen from the International Space Station. Image: NASA

China extends an invitation to UN countries to use its planned space station.

China is collaborating with the United Nations (UN) to help arrange international scientific experiments aboard the country’s as-yet unbuilt space station.

The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and China’s Manned Space Agency (CMSA) have invited applications from UN member states to conduct research aboard China’s Space Station (CSS).

CSS to be fully operational by 2022

Future Human

In 2016, CMSA and UNOOSA co-signed a deal to work together around the development of the space capabilities of UN member states, and the role the CSS would play in this. The CSS is expected to be fully operational by 2022.

On 28 May, UNOOSA and the Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations and Other International Organisations published application instructions for the initiative at an announcement in Vienna.

Participants can conduct experiments inside or outside the CSS using payloads they develop, or they can perform experiments inside the station using facilities provided by China.

What do China and the UN hope to achieve?

The initiative laid out four key aims:

  • promoting international cooperation in human spaceflight and activities related to space exploration
  • providing flight experiment and space application opportunities aboard the CSS for UN member states
  • promoting of capacity-building activities by making use of human spaceflight technologies, including facilities and resources from China’s human spaceflight programme
  • increasing awareness among UN member states of the benefits of using human space technology and its applications

“CSS belongs not only to China, but also to the world,” said Shi Zhongjun, China’s ambassador to the UN in Vienna. “All countries, regardless of their size and level of development, can participate in the cooperation on an equal footing.”

Space as a driver for development

Director of UNOOSA, Simonetta Di Pippo, praised China’s space exploration track record. “Since the launch of the first Chinese satellite in 1970, China has become one of the major spacefaring nations. Its state-of-the-art space programme, including the well-established manned space programme, is one of the most holistic and technologically advanced in the world.

“Such technical advances in space have broader benefits to all of us, as space is a driver and a tool for socioeconomic sustainable development. With the global challenges we all face here on Earth, it is important to foster collaboration and cooperation in space activities.”

This announcement from China presents a major change in terms of how space research is conducted. During a hearing at the US Senate, some representatives raised concerns at the Trump administration’s plan to end NASA’s direct support of the International Space Station in 2025. China could end up becoming an alternative for smaller nations that may have novel ideas for space research but lack the funds and national infrastructure to pursue them.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects