Oct 11, 2022 - Science

The UAE straddles the line between the U.S. and China in space

Illustration of the moon with China, UAE and USA flags planted at the top

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

The United Arab Emirates is straddling geopolitical lines in space by working with China and the U.S. in their lunar ambitions.

Why it matters: The UAE's partnerships with the U.S. and China could help bridge the gap between the two countries — which don't currently collaborate on space missions — and possibly help them work together informally in space.

  • As more nations aim to send people and spacecraft to the Moon in the coming years, communication about landing sites and the dust environment and a general situational awareness will become more important to make sure everyone stays safe.

Driving the news: The UAE recently announced it's planning to fly a rover to the Moon with China's Chang’e-7 mission, which is expected to launch around 2026.

  • The nation also signed on to the Artemis Accords in 2020, which is NASA's effort to try to govern resources and exploration of the Moon internationally.
  • Twenty-one nations have signed the accords, which state that countries party to the agreement will openly share scientific data, provide aid if an emergency occurs on the Moon and use lunar exploration only for peaceful purposes.
  • China and Russia are among the countries that have not signed the accords.

Details: The small UAE rover, named Rashid 2, will be preceded by the Rashid 1 rover.

  • The Rashid 1 rover is expected to fly to the Moon with Japan's ispace Hakuto-R lander aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket later this year.
  • Instead of focusing on building rockets to launch their own satellites, the UAE has forged partnerships to build spacecraft and launch a space program that is already operating a probe orbiting Mars.
  • The UAE didn't respond to questions in time for publication.

Between the lines: One of the architects of the Artemis Accords says he envisioned this kind of bridge-building when they were developing the agreement.

  • "We were hoping that the document could help influence even those who weren't a party to the program or signatories. And this is a potential good example of that because the UAE is committed to the principles of the accords," Mike Gold of Redwire Space, who helped craft the accords, tells Axios.
  • Any UAE mission to the Moon should be in line with the accords, even if the nation works with a country that hasn't signed on, Gold added.
  • "[T]his might be a way for [the UAE] to demonstrate leadership in terms of cooperative approaches in space at the ... global level," Victoria Samson of the Secure World Foundation tells Axios.

The big picture: Having nations straddle these lines in space could help if conflicts ever arise as the Moon becomes a more crowded place in the coming years.

  • NASA isn't able to bilaterally collaborate with China in space without a specific waiver from Congress due to the Wolf Amendment, first passed in 2011.
  • The amendment was created, in part, to withhold space collaboration until China's human rights record improved.
  • But the amendment has also created an additional politically divisive layer to collaboration, making it that much harder for the U.S. and China to work together in orbit and beyond.
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