On The Latest Chinese Space Research – 2018

According to Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu, the first Romanian astronaut, former president of ASE- the Association of the Space Explorers (the professional association of astronauts), and former chairman of UN COPUOS (Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space) between 2010-2012 , “China is strikingly advanced in space activities and focused on manned human space flights”.

Prunariu was a special guest, invited to the 21st IAA HIS Symposium in Shenzhen, the Chinese frontier city of science and technology that gathered 9 astronauts and 150 researchers from 60 countries, at the end of November.

The Chinese research presented in Shenzhen was evidence of the advanced level of technology that is being produced.

The Chinese research on the active exoskeleton control technology based on 3E+ (EEG, EMG, ECG, eye movement, camera, pressure and angular info), conducted by Xuejun Jiao, Rui Yin, Jin Jiang and Jinda Feng aims at  providing intelligent power-assistant equipment for astronauts. In order to reduce the astronaut’s task load and to provide energy support, this technology provides a combination of exoskeleton and a BCI (brain-computer interface). The study turns out to be a breakthrough in this field: “in order to improve the application of the EVA (extravehicular activity) space suit, the robotic system in the outer space will identify the astronaut’s motor intention and control the exoskeleton system by brain activity”. The exoskeleton controlled by hybrid BCI embodies a fusion of execution, perception and decision levels through multi-sensor technology, including physiological signal, biomechanics information and video info and through a recognition algorithm of motor intention and control algorithm of a delicate operation.

Another experiment presented during the 21st IAA HIS Symposium in Shenzhen by Jin Jiang, Rui Yin, Xuejun Jiao and Jing Jing Pan on the BCI (brain-computer interface) and involving 6 human subjects confirms that humans can control robotic devices only by brain signal.  With the advantage of portability, low-cost and non-invasiveness, the BCI based on EEG is seen to be one of the best applications in human-machine interaction for spaceflight tasks. Since the accuracy of the BCI ability to distinguish targets is above 70%, the ultimate purpose of this research is to develop real-time intelligent miniaturization BCI for future EVA (extra-vehicular activities) space suit.

As an annual delegate to COPUOS, Prunariu is very familiar with China’s space achievements: “China has invited developing nations to conduct experiments on its space station planned to be on the orbit in 2022, and has signed an agreement with the UNOOSA (Office for Outer Space Activities) so that UNOOSA could select experiments from the developing countries to be conducted aboard on the Chinese space station for free, which proves that China considers the UN as highly important in international cooperation! No other nation has ever signed such agreement! And it does not neglect any possibility to conclude an agreement with countries that have expertise on the peaceful use of the outer space. For instance, in July 2017, it signed a memorandum of understanding with Romania, which possesses such expertise, and, geopolitically, it falls along the route of the Belt and Road Initiative”.

Prunariu  says that he felt from the beginning China’s huge potential in Space: “When I was still the president of the Association of Space Explorers,  I personally insisted to have Chinese astronauts become members of ASE  and to hold the ASE congress in Beijing in 2014, to start getting to know each other better. The first Chinese astronaut, Yang Liwei, was elected as a member of ASE Board. Time showed indeed that China is promoting Space activities it is and open to develop Space projects as well as advanced technology and science, with the purpose to ensure national security and to gain its place, prestige and recognition on the global stage, as a strong space-faring nation with a high level of technology”.

The Chinese Manned Space Agency hopes for broadened collaboration with other countries and international organizations under the framework of the agreement, on the principle of peaceful uses of outer space, equality and mutual benefit, and joint development.

The Chinese space station, named Tiangong 3 (meaning “Heavenly Palace 3” in Chinese), is currently under development and is expected to be operational around 2022. The station has advanced technology and multi-purpose on-board facilities that provides approirate conditions for the UN member states to conduct microgravity experiments on physics, biology, and life science as well as Earth observation.

Little chance stands the Space cooperation between China and the US for the moment.

In 2011, congressman Frank Wolf inserted a clause into the US expenditure law bill that forbids NASA or OSTP (White House Office of Science and Technology Policy) to use federal funds “to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company.”

Jeffrey Manber, CEO of NANORACKS, a private commercial company that provides hardware for the International Space Station, found a “private” way to have China cooperate with the international space station: “The Canadians, Russians and Americans would have worked with the Chinese on the ISS but this law forbids it. When we started to work, we felt this amendment does not apply to us because we are a commercial company, we are not using tax-payers’ money.  We have customers from 30 nations who pay us for services. We went to Obama administration and asked to engage the Chinese, and they gave us permission. Charles Bolden, administrator of NASA at the same, wrote a letter to the Congress saying this complies with the Wolf amendment, NASA was not involved, no technology transfer…. We worked with Beijing Institute of Technology which became the first Chinese entity to conduct experiments on board of the ISS, and they did a successful project on the DNA, they found abnormalities in the DNA after exposure in Space and, if this is true, maybe we cannot set out on a journey to Mars!  Even those who for the Wolf amendment showed various degrees on enthusiasm for our project”.

The Beijing Institute of Technology was one of the organizers of the 21st IAA Humans in Space Symposium in Shenzhen.  A symposium that confirmed that China is gradually achieving excellence in its Space programs and it substantiates its capabilities to implement outstanding Space projects with every occasion.

Countries progressing in space programs

An overview of the countries with space activities has been provided by the 59th session of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space – COPUOS in Vienna.

Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu, former chairman of COPUOS, president of the European chapter of the Association of Space Explorers, who has been representing Romania and the Association of Space Explorers within COPUOS for the last 24 years, says many countries are making huge progress in space activities from one year to another.

India is advanced in space technology, its Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is a space probe orbiting Mars since 24 September 2014. It was launched on 5 November 2013 by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and it is India’s first interplanetary mission. Its cost was only US$ 73 million, the least-expensive Mars mission to date. By instance NASA’s Mars Scout Program, which spawned MAVEN mission to Mars cost up to US$ 671 million.

The United Arab Emirates set up their Space Agency in 2014, joined the UN COPUOS in 2015 and they are already preparing Amal, a probe mission to planet Mars, set to arrive in 2021. The UAE’s endeavour is striking because a country with a 2-year old space agency already has top experts, many of whom women, that are working together to launch Amal, that will travel the 600 million kilometres for 200 days with a cruising speed of 126,00 km/hour.

Other countries, with limited resources but desire to have access to space technology for sustainable development have access to UN regional training centers for space science and technology education in each region covered by the United Nations Economic Commissions: Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Western Asia. The main goal of each centre is the development of the skills and knowledge of university educators and research and applications scientists, through rigorous theory, research, applications, field exercises, and pilot projects in those aspects of space science and technology that can contribute to sustainable development in each country.

“China is so dynamic in space and more recently open to international cooperation in manned space flights”, says Prunariu. It could offer a huge advantage for other space-faring nations not having their own means to send people to outer space: “China has made a detailed presentation of its manned space flights, in 3 stages:  individual flights, flights aboard experimental space modules to a space lab, in order to test all the operations such as rendezvous, docking, fuelling, coupling of the future space station, and operations on the Chinese space station that will be operational for many, many years. Its assembling in space will start in 2018 and end in 2022. As international cooperation is vital for the development of cosmonautics and for the peaceful use of the outer space, China has proposed other nations to host international crews aboard its space station, obviously, trained in China, on Chinese space-crafts, but having the possibility to make scientific experiments in space on behalf of their own nations or the international organizations they represent. A distinct element in this cooperation, unlike previous cooperation with the former USSR or with NASA, is that China has proposed that these instances of cooperation for manned missions be made under the umbrella of the UN. UNOOSA has already concluded 2 agreements with the Chinese Space Agency in this respect. Practically, cooperation will go through 2 dimensions: country– UN and UN-China. The UN has signed therefore with China an agreement to make operational the manned flights performed by UN countries together with China. These countries will get involved in space programs that have been agreed by the UN, and these programs will benefit from the advantages made available by China in order to make experiments in the outer space”.

Indeed, the presentation of the Chinese manned space flights made by Wu Ping, deputy director of China Manned Space Agency was impressive, even for experts, who realize the huge financial and human efforts China makes. Shenzhou-5, in 2003, was the 1st Chinese manned spaceflight mission, Yang Liwei becoming the first Chinese into outer space. In 2008, Shenzhou-7 performed the first EVA- Extravehicular Activity. So far, China has carried out 11 spaceflight missions in total, 5 of which were manned missions, sending 10 persons and 12 person-times of Chinese astronauts into space and returning them safely.

The delegation of the Russian Federation made a presentation of Space Debris, Space Operations and Tools to Support Collaborative Space Situational Awareness, stressing the importance of Sharing information on objects and events in space and the deficiencies in this field: lack of a unified international cataloguing and identification mechanism for space objects, and the lack of merged information coming from various sources. “No State in the world is currently able to provide a complete and constantly updated picture of the situation in orbit on its own. Thus, there is an objective need to combine capabilities in this area…”, said Victor Shillin, researcher form the Russian Academy of Science.

Dr Dava Newman, NASA Deputy Administrator, made a presentation about the „Journey to Mars via Global Space Cooperation”, a gruelling endeavor, and very hypnotizing for countries.

African countries are end-users of space technology to meet domestic needs such as the remote sensing for identification of water sources, and natural resources.

Alaa El Nahry from Egypt presented Egypt’s use of satellites to identify water sources and the plan to launch 5 nano-satellites between 2017-2022.

The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space – COPUOS was set up by the General Assembly of the UN in 1959 to govern the exploration and use of space for the benefit of all humanity: for peace, security and development. The task of the Committee is to review international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space, to study space-related activities that could be undertaken by the United Nations, to encourage space research programmes, and to study the legal problems arising from the exploration of outer space. From 24 member states in 1959, it evolved to 84 currently, plus 33 observers – non-governmental and inter-governmental professional organizations, among which the Association of Space Explorers -ASE, often represented at COPUOS sessions by Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu. ASE is the international professional association of the astronauts, including over 400 astronauts from 37 countries.