European and Chinese space cooperation highlighted by visit of Chinese Prime Minister
China's Prime Minister Jiabao Wen visited ESA's research and technology centre (ESTEC), in Noordwijk, the Netherlands yesterday. Accompanied by four of his ministers, Prime Minister Wen was introduced to Europe's space activities and received a tour of the ESTEC facilities.
The Chinese delegation was in the Netherlands - current holder of the six-month EU presidency - for a EU-China summit meeting in The Hague. During their short stay they were also received by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Dutch Prime Minister Jan Pieter Balkenende.
Welcoming the delegation to the Erasmus User Centre, ESA's Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain introduced ESA and outlined the agency's main achievements and activities to date, emphasizing the importance of China as a partner in space.
ESA and China already have a long-standing record of cooperation that began 25 years ago with an agreement to facilitate the exchange of scientific information. Cooperation has continued in the areas of space science, Earth observation and navigation.
Following successful cooperation with scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the analysis of data from ESA's Cluster mission, ESA contributed eight scientific instruments to China's Double Star satellites. The two satellites, launched in December 2003 and July 2004, operate alongside ESA's quartet of Cluster satellites to closely study the Earth's magnetosphere – the magnetic bubble that surrounds our planet.
ESA also set up the Dragon research programme with the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology in May last year. The Dragon Programme allows Chinese and European universities to conduct joint research using data from Envisat, ESA's Earth observation satellite. Areas of research include agricultural and forest monitoring, water resource assessment and climate change.
A recent agreement with the Chinese National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSCC) means that ESA will work closely with Chinese industry participating in the European satellite navigation system, Galileo.
Prime Minister Wen was taken on a tour of the high-bay area of the Erasmus User Centre, and to view the Automated Transfer Vehicle Jules Verne. The ATV, Europe's cargo carrier for the International Space Station, is due to be launched in Autumn 2005 and is currently undergoing testing at ESTEC.
During the visit to the ESTEC test facility Prime Minister Wen took some time to talk further with Mr Dordain, ESA's Director of Human Spaceflight, Microgravity and Exploration Daniel Sacotte and ESA's Director of Technical and Quality Management, and Head of the ESTEC establishment Michel Courtois. He also presented ESA astronauts Frank De Winne and André Kuipers, who accompanied him on the tour, with special stamps of Yang Liwei, who flew on the first Chinese manned spaceflight in October 2003. Mr Dordain presented the Prime Minister with a SMART-1 image of the Moon.
Thanking the Chinese delegation for their visit, Dordain added "I am proud of our achievements, and proud of what we are doing here at ESA for European citizens. I am also very proud of our cooperation with China." A new framework agreement between ESA and the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA), due to be signed in February 2005, will ensure the cooperation continues into the future.