On Wednesday, the China National Space Administration (CNSA), in a brief statement, said they held “working level meetings and communications from January to March 2021” with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), the US’s space agency.
China said the meetings were about “exchanging the ephemeris data to ensure the flight safety of Mars spacecraft.”
Currently, both US and China have their own Mars missions going on. While Nasa’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars in February 2021 and has begun exploration, China’s Tianwen-1 is orbiting Mars in preparation for a landing in May or June. In addition, the UAE’s craft is only orbiting and will not attempt to land.
China and the US have been at loggerheads with each other on issues ranging from Hong Kong and Taiwan to a free Indo-Pacific region, which makes their cooperation a rare event.
According to South China Morning Post, Nasa is also coordinating with other space agencies involved in Mars missions.
“To assure the safety of our respective missions, Nasa is coordinating with the UAE, European Space Agency, Indian Space Research Organisation and the China National Space Administration, all of which have spacecraft in orbit around Mars, to exchange information on our respective Mars missions to ensure the safety of our respective spacecraft,” Nasa said in a statement.
According to the US’s law, almost all contacts between Nasa and China are banned over concerns about technology theft and the secretive military-backed nature of China’s space programme.
But the acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk, during a video meeting last week, said exceptions can be made when NASA can certify to Congress that it has protections in place to safeguard information.
Mr Jurczyk emphasised that the most recent exchange was about China providing orbital and other data for its Mars mission so they could analyse the risk of collision, reported the SpaceNews website.
“We do have targeted engagement with them,” he said and pointed that it will be up to President Joe Biden’s administration and the Congress to determine if and how the US engages with China on non-military space activities as part of the nation’s overall China strategy.
“As the administration and Congress sets those policies, we look forward to how we can contribute in respect to civil space dialogue and collaboration with China,” said Mr Jurczyk.
Additional reporting by agencies