As their respective probes headed to Mars, China and the United States held consultations earlier this year in a series of unusual exchanges between the two rival nations.
China’s National Space Agency confirmed Wednesday that it held working meetings and communications with NASA between January and March to ensure the safe flight of its spacecraft.
U.S. law prohibits almost all contacts between NASA and China because of concerns about technology theft and because of the secretive nature of Beijing’s space program, which is backed by its military.
Read also: Italy expels 2 Russian embassy officials for espionage
Exceptions can be made when NASA can certify to Congress that it has all the protections in place to protect its information, the U.S. space agency’s acting administrator, Steve Jurczyk, said in a video conference last week.
Jurczyk noted that the most recent exchange was when China provided orbital and other data for its Mars mission so it could analyze collision risk. We have a specific commitment to them, he said.
His statements were first reported by the cybersite SpaceNews.
Jurczyk added that it will be up to President Joe Biden’s administration and Congress to determine whether and how the United States engages China in nonmilitary space activities as part of its overall strategy toward the Asian giant.
Mars orbit is busy this year following the arrival of probes from the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates.
NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on the surface of Mars in February and has begun its exploration work. The Chinese probe, Tianwen-1, is cruising around the planet in preparation for a descent in May or June. The Emirati probe is only in orbit and will not land.
Read also: NATO intercepts six groups of Russian aircraft at different points in its airspace