NASA and China collaborate on the Moon

The US and Chinese space agencies speak and coordinate themselves in a limited way to explore the moon, confirmed Friday NASA, which must operate in a very narrow legal framework imposed by the Congress, suspicious of the transfer of technology to China.

NASA's chief scientist Thomas Zurbuchen tweeted on Friday that NASA had "been in talks with China" to have an American satellite possibly observe the Chinese probe Chang'e 4's moon landing on Jan. 3. the dark side of the moon.

That's what the deputy head of China's lunar exploration program, Wu Yanhua, said on Monday. He explained at a press conference that China had given NASA in advance the expected latitude, longitude and time of the probe lunar, in the hope that NASA's satellite Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) can observe this historical event.

NASA provided the planned orbit of the LRO. Finally, the satellite could not be in the right place at the right time.

In a statement, the US space agency explained that it would have been in its interest to observe the dust cloud caused by the impact, with the LAMP instrument aboard the satellite.

"For a variety of reasons, NASA has not been able to adjust the LRO's orbit so that it is in an optimal position to observe the landing, but NASA is still interested in the possibility of detecting the cloud. long after landing, "the agency said.

This type of observation will be useful for future American missions on the Moon, with Americans wanting to return probes and, ultimately, astronauts. Nasa wants to assemble by 2026 a station in lunar orbit.

Finally, the US satellite will pass over the site of Chang'e 4 January 31, announces NASA. She will photograph it as she did for Chang'e 3 in 2013.

"NASA and the CNSA (Chinese Space Agency) have agreed that any important discovery resulting from this coordination be made public to the world scientific community" at a scientific conference of the UN Committee for peaceful use of outer space in Vienna from 11 to 22 February.

- American return on the moon -

Since 2011, US law prohibits any space cooperation with China that could create a "transfer of technology, data, or any information with implications for national or economic security."

For example, China does not participate in the International Space Station.

Exceptions are possible, but NASA must then provide certification to Congress and the FBI that they pose none of these risks.

NASA said in its statement that the cooperation was done in accordance with "the directives of the administration and the Congress" and was "transparent, reciprocal and mutually beneficial".

Asked by AFP, the competent committee of the US Senate had not confirmed immediately.

The cooperation could have even gone further, revealed the main designer of the Chinese lunar program, Wu Weiren.

According to him, the Americans had asked "a few years ago" that the Chinese extend the duration of operation of the Chinese relay satellite Queqiao, launched in May 2018, from three to five years.

Why? "They said, a little embarrassed, that they also wanted to land on the far side of the moon, and if we left it longer, they could also use it," Wu Weiren said in an interview on Sunday. Chinese public television CCTV.

This satellite allows the machines located on the hidden side to communicate with the Earth.

The Americans had also raised the idea of ​​placing a beacon on Chang'e 4, to help alleviate them in the future. "I told them that Chang'e 4 could be used as a beacon for them," Wu Weiren said.

For any more ambitious cooperation, for example on the international basis that the Chinese have evoked in the long term, "the American restrictions will be a much higher barrier to overcome," says Henry Hertzfeld, director of the Space Policy Institute, AFP. George Washington University.

But the US Congress will still have the freedom to relax the few paragraphs of the law, adopted in retaliation after a wave of cyberattacks attributed to China.