Nasa chief warns US Congress about Chinese space station

  • Beijing has announced plans for a permanent platform that it hopes will be operational by 2022
  • Jim Bridenstine says US must maintain presence in Earth’s orbit after ISS is decommissioned so Asian superpower does not gain strategic advantage

South China Morning Post
Date: 24 Sep, 2020
By: Agence France-Presse

A radar image of China’s Tiangong-1 space station, which ceased operation in 2018. Beijing has announced plans for a permanent space station by 2022. Image: Fraunhofer Institute FHR via AP

Nasa chief Jim Bridenstine told lawmakers on Wednesday it was crucial for the US to maintain a presence in Earth’s orbit after the International Space Station is decommissioned so that China does not gain a strategic advantage.

The first parts of the ISS were launched in 1998 and it has been continuously lived in since 2000.

The station, which serves as a space science lab and is a partnership between the US, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada, is currently expected to be operated until 2030.

“I’ll tell you one thing that has me very concerned – and that is that a day is coming when the International Space Station comes to the end of its useful life,” Bridenstine said.

What the Tiangong-1 space station meant for China’s ambitions

“In order to be able to have the United States of America have a presence in low Earth orbit, we have to be prepared for what comes next,” he added.

To that end, Nasa has requested US$150 million for the 2021 financial year to help develop the commercialisation of low Earth orbit, defined as 2,000km (1,200 miles) or less from the planet’s surface.

“We want to see a public-private partnership where Nasa can deal with commercial space station providers, so that we can keep a permanent uninterrupted human presence in low Earth orbit,” Bridenstine said.

“I don’t think it’s in the interest of the nation to build another International Space Station – I do think it’s in the interest of the nation to support commercial industry, where Nasa is a customer.”