I understand that U.S. Congress passed a law in 2011 barring space agency collaboration with CNSA because of concerns over "national security".

I also get that China blew-up one of their own satellites causing a massive distribution of orbital debris, which was understandably unpopular.

But other than that, is there any real, solid, practical reason I'm missing, besides just politik? (would be perfectly acceptable answer if so)

Not inviting China to the ISS means China is now building their own space station, the Tiangong, so if the worry is "technology over-sharing", well, they're already replicating most of our abilities already. (China's capsule, the Shenzhou, looks like the design borrows mostly from the Soyuz anyway.)

Are we in a cold war with China? The U.S.-Soviet cold war did bring a truly exciting pace to space exploration, even if we were duplicating each others' work and spending unprecedented amounts to do so.

The issue is, a ticket to Mars is very expensive-looking on a politician's budget review sheet, so while they don't want to be the ones who say "no," I'm sure they'd welcome support from countries willing to share a chunk of that price tag.

Side Note: I've also just learned that India is not part of the ISS program either? This is even more strange, because it seems to me like they've had more launches per year, more successful missions, and their PSLV has come along nicely and is looking impressive, even though the ISRO isn't as "big" as China's. Plus, I don't recall US having any major political beefs with India. And I'm sure they'd love to go to Mars with us.

So, why does the "International" Space Station seem to wave a "Members Only" flag?

  • $\begingroup$ Care to point to the place in that article that says that India is not in in the ISS due to obstruction? From what I can see, it seems that South Korea and India simply haven't joined yet. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ Also, I assume you've already read this? Though I should note that there is doubt that further progress toward cooperation in space is on the horizon, in light of the elected administration in the United States. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 22:23
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage On 2nd to last wiki link I read, "ISRO announced at ... 2009 IAC that their nations wished to join the ISS programme, with talks due to begin in 2010. The heads of agency also expressed support for extending ISS lifetime." which made me wonder what's taking so long, if there's some kind of holdup. Even if they don't ferry crew, they should already have means for resupply, like the Dragon capsule. $\endgroup$
    – IT Bear
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage also, beautiful pic in that article you posted of Apollo-Soyuz. :) $\endgroup$
    – IT Bear
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 22:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I still wonder if Russians could invite the Chinese to Zarya/Zvezda. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented May 28, 2018 at 18:13

3 Answers 3


China has nothing to prove in this case, as it asked to be part of the International Space Station. This request was shut down by the US Government, which now prevents NASA from working with any Chinese citizen affiliated with the government (e.g. CNSA). This is entirely on the US and its decision to bar the CNSA from any cooperation with NASA, and not on a Chinese reluctance to be part of the CNSA.

From NASA chief says ban on Chinese partnerships is temporary (Reuters, 12 Oct 2015):

The United States should include China in its human space projects or face being left out of new ventures to send people beyond the International Space Station, NASA chief Charles Bolden said on Monday.
Since 2011, the U.S. space agency has been banned by Congress from collaborating with China, due to human rights issues and national security concerns.

From Politics of the International Space Station (Wikipedia):

In 2007, Chinese vice-minister of science and technology Li Xueyong said that China would like to participate in the ISS.
In 2010, ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain stated his agency was ready to propose to the other 4 partners that China be invited to join the partnership, but that this needs to be a collective decision by all the current partners. While ESA is open to China's inclusion, the US is against it.

From The Silly Reason the Chinese Aren't Allowed on the Space Station (Time, 29 May 2015):

China has been barred from the ISS since 2011, when Congress passed a law prohibiting official American contact with the Chinese space program due to concerns about national security.

More info e.g. here

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Interesting answer, but it needs some links to back up your statements. $\endgroup$
    – user10509
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 19:09
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @JanDoggen The director of ESA himself wants to invite China to partake in the ISS.wsj.com/articles/… It is purely and solely the US who vehemently veto any cooperation with china, and I have yet to see a reasonable argument. $\endgroup$
    – Polygnome
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 20:30
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Since you did not add any links, I have done so. Still looking for proof though, that China asked (that Wall Street Journal article is behind a paywall). The only thing I found was Chinese taikonauts expressing a desire in a CNN interview. $\endgroup$
    – user10509
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 21:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ OK, but why is China the only country we have "concerns about national security" with, or that they might "steal technologies" (see Raze's answer) ? $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented May 28, 2018 at 18:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ could you please fix "its decision"? thanks $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Commented May 29, 2018 at 11:58

This is will be a very humble answer and an overview of events that caused the complication.

It has been more of a political issue rather than technical issue.

U.S. congress always have wanted to ban the Chinese from launching U.S. satellites due to security and financial reasons. (So the money goes to ULA, not Chinese)

Back in 1996, Intelsat 708 was aboard Long March 3B rocket, seconds after launch, the rocket tilts and exploded in the mountains.


SSL(Owner of Intelsat) immediately identified the problem and fixed the problem for the Chinese.(Gyro sensor had problem) Then, the congress was not happy with what SSL did, and one of the republican senator used this incident and urged to ban US satellites launching from Chinese rockets, and the congress approved.

Further from that, Congress feared the Chinese might modify their communication satellites or steal technologies from US satellites when the satellite is in the Chinese hands.

The event was catastrophic for space cooperation between US and China, and this complication is still in effect today.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Why can't the Chinese launch their own stuff up to the ISS? (I'm assuming there's similar cold-war era legalization regarding US equipment launched from Russian rockets, so what gives?) Does Russia already have equivalent tech so we don't care about them knowing? What rules would be broken if Russia brought a Chinese with them? Basically, why is it ok for Russia but not China? If the incidents in Taiwan and the Ukraine were temporally swapped, would it be the reverse? $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented May 28, 2018 at 18:43

ISS didn't have many countries as part of it especially China and India IMO have many and varying reason.

China is somewhat capable on his own for going on venture like this having space station as you know Tiangong.

If you compare space program of China with nations participating in ISS excluding USA, China has far more program running concurrently and joining ISS means China has to spend a considerable amount and resources for it's part in ISS. China is still a part of newly industrialize nations.

Also china is part of Asian Space Race.

China has to prove itself that it has been there as early as possible to compete with nations like India and Japan.

Regarding India there has been talks of letting participate ISRO in ISS but in my opinion this is somewhat not possible because of lack of budget and technological barriers.

Isro didn't have any experience in projecting human in outer space neither have any crew sustainability module, although development is in undergoing for above points.

The annual running costs for the Japanese Experiment Module will be totally around $350-400 million (almost half of ISRO’s annual budget). Which means that if India has to participate meaningfully and do some interesting science, ISRO will need an almost 50% hike (to Rs.3,500 crore) in its budget. Although this is one-tenth of the cost of having our own manned space programmes, this is also the cost of having 50 Mars Orbiter Missions a year!



  • 1
    $\begingroup$ China has nothing to prove. They already asked to be part of the ISS, and ESA would be more then willing to have them (c.f. wsj.com/articles/…). Its only the U.S. vetoing that ensures that china has no part in the ISS. $\endgroup$
    – Polygnome
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 20:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.