Jade Rabbit rover and the space race

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Launched to great fanfare in December, China’s Jade Rabbit moon lander has experienced a “mechanical control abnormality” 42 days into its three-month mission. The craft’s main camera has failed and it’s speculated that one of its solar panels may not have folded up during the 14-day lunar night to protect its temperature-sensitive instruments.

  1. Outlook for Jade Rabbit: Experts on the ground don’t hold high hopes for the troubled Jade Rabbit. “The prognosis for the rover is not good,” said Australian space analyst Dr Morris Jones. “Its main camera has already failed and it still faces more than a week of cold lunar night. It remains to be seen if it will survive.”
  2. China’s quiet: Because China’s space program is coordinated by the military, the country isn’t transparent on the current status of the Jade Rabbit. “The Chinese will have to say something about it,” said BBC Science Editor David Shukman. But the contrast with the Americans “is striking…If something goes wrong like the Apollo 13, it was all there open for everyone to see,” he said. “With this (Jade Rabbit mission) we’re teasing out little fragments of information.” The lack of information speaks to an emerging feature of space competition, the general opacity of certain governments. This could become an issue in future competition.
  3. China’s space future: China will continue to explore space. The Chinese have a long-term program for the moon. They have future missions planned, including manned missions to the moon. Said BBC’s Shukman: “This won’t stop them. This is a step back. This won’t stop them. It’s an embarrassment but it won’t stop them.” The Jade Rabbit moon lander is one of only a handful of projects pursued by the People’s Republic of China, including the Tiangong-3 “HeavenlyPalace” space station scheduled to orbiting earth by 2023.
  4. Russia: China is not alone in its lunar ambitions, as the Russians have recently announced plans to return a rover to the moon. Russia plans to launch the Luna-Resurs-1 Moon orbiter in 2016, as well as a Martian rover two years later, according to Chinese media. “Last December, Lev Zelyony, director of the RussianAcademy of Science’s Space Research Institute, said Russia has set ambitious goals to regaining the title of leading space power by 2023,” Xinhua reported. While Russia has been busy ferrying cosmonauts – and even US astronauts – to space, not all are convinced by Russia’s plans. Space analyst Dr Jones, however, doesn’t have high hopes for the Russians. “[The Russians) will probably launch the lunar mission they mention, but their planetary exploration program is very sick,” he said.
  5. The United States: Where is the US in all of this? The biggest news from the US isn’t about moonshots but the decision to extend the life of the International Space Station at least until 2024- no doubt with one eye on China’s recent strides. As one observer noted, the increased investment in the ISS helps keep space technology in a pre-competitive phase both for allies and competitors alike. This is important, because the commercialization of space could kick off a new level of competition, the first wave we’re only seeing now.

Uh-oh. Russians reportedly violate Cold War missile treaty

According to the NYT:

[US} officials, who asked not to be identified because they were discussing internal deliberations, said there was no question the missile tests ran counter to the treaty and the administration had already shown considerable patience with the Russians.

The missile treaty is the INF treaty of 1987, which says the US and Soviet Union would “eliminate its intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, not have such systems thereafter, and carry out the other obligations set forth in this Treaty.”

The NYT report notes this this missile test sits alongside other “irritants” in the relationship including Syria negotiations, the Ed Snowden caper and now the division in Ukraine. This sort of rogue action by Russia, unfortunately, is what the end of the post-Cold War order could look like. China too signs agreements which it routinely disregards (or its government can’t enforce them internally). Of course, this is playing out as the US pushes ahead with a missile shield in Europe. And unlike the twilight of the Cold War there isn’t a careful balance in place between two sides. So while the NYTs headline harks back to the 1980s, the mood may be more early 1950s.

Now begins the test of the BRICs theory

As emerging market tank on the news that the US Fed is cutting QE purchases by a mere US$10B a month, currencies, bonds and equities from the emerging markets are getting hammered. The question, of course, is if the US and UK economies (and the European economy to a lesser extent) are strong enough to continue their recovery.

Possibly of more interest will be what effect the columns of red have on the emerging world’s rising narrative, which is essentially based on a notion of stable geopolitics permitting unhindered development within Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Bad week for Japan, bad week for China

Japan: The ‘extremely inappropriate’ comments about comfort women during WWII by the incoming head of national broadcaster NHK Katsuto Momii have dealt a blow to Shinzo Abe’s government – and unfortunately, it’s a self-inflicted one. Momii, making what he described as personal comments, during a press conference held by NHK, dismissed the horrors of Japan’s forced wartime sex slavery as not unique.

A firestorm ensued and the Japanese government distanced itself from Momii. According to the Asahi Shimbun, a member of Abe’s government said: “I am extremely angry because these gaffes are unthinkable for the head of a media company…He should immediately resign.” Momii’s comments couldn’t have come at a worse time, on the heels of Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni shine, which has inflamed both China and South Korea, who are the victims of Japan’s imperial aggression in the 1930s and before. But possibly the most troubling element is this exchange from the press conference, according to Asahi Shimbun:

When a reporter pointed out to Momii that the news conference was being held to mark his becoming NHK chairman, he said, “I retract everything I have said.”

Isn’t he savvy enough to figure out that if he spouts these views to a room full of reporters, it will become international news? All of this fuels fears that if Abe successfully restores Japan’s position in the world, its leaders will rip off their masks and reveal themselves to be the kind of hard-right, hawkish, inflexible nationalists who people fear. It feeds this mistaken notion the Japan is aiming for a rerun of the 1930s.

It is true that Japan must exit the permanent apology-mode to normalize its foreign policy, much in the way Germany has done. Japan’s relationship today with its past is a legitimate internal issue. And many if not most countries have a core of people who see their nation as superior and beyond reproach – and so the Japanese aren’t unique in these ways. But don’t the LDP politicians and like-minded folk have the wisdom to conduct these discussions behind closed doors and out of the range of a bevy of microphones? Otherwise, they risk eroding trust with Japan’s allies.

China: The Jade Rabbit moon lander seems to have hit a snag. So that good news story has hit a wall – for now.