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.