Why Is China Banned From ISS? Beijing Launches First Part of Its Own Station

China successfully launched the first module of its own space station on Thursday, prompting curiosity about why the country does not simply use the International Space Station (ISS), according to Google Search data.

The core module of China's station, which will eventually be known as Tiangong, or the China Space Station (CSS), is the largest spacecraft China has ever developed and is 54.4 feet long, 13.7 feet in diameter, and weighs nearly 25 tons

Once complete, Tiangong will form a T-shape with the core Tianhe module in the middle and laboratory modules docked around it.

Bai Linhou, deputy chief designer of the space station at the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), told the Xinhua news agency the station is "expected to contribute to the peaceful development and utilization of space resources through international cooperation."

In 2019, the U.N. confirmed that six experiments were going to be conducted on the CSS involving institutions from Germany, Switzerland, India, Russia and others.

Gu Yidong, chief scientist of the China Manned Space program, told Scientific American: "We do not intend to compete with the ISS in terms of scale." But the elephant in the room remains: China has never been to the ISS.

As its name suggests, the International Space Station is a global project, even though the vast majority of its inhabitants have come from the U.S. and Russia.

Other countries that have sent astronauts to the ISS include Canada, Brazil, the U.K., the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, South Korea, Malaysia, Japan and others.

China is conspicuous by its absence from this list, and the reason lies simply in the fact that the U.S. does not want it to be there.

The 2011 Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, which set rules and funding for defense and other U.S. government agencies for that year, states in section 1340 that NASA may not use funds from that division to collaborate in any way with China unless a law specifically authorizes it.

Reuters reported in 2015 that the ban was due to human rights issues and national security concerns.

In 2015, space analyst Miles O'Brien told CNN the idea of the U.S. collaborating with China "gets shut down immediately" whenever it is brought up near Congress, adding that the Chinese Communist Party is "viewed as a government that seeks to take our intellectual property."

"The Chinese government has always advocated the peaceful use of outer space," Wang Jin, a spokesman for Beijing's Ministry of Defense, said at the time.

The future of the ISS is currently uncertain. Partnerships and funding are due to run out in 2024. NASA told the Financial Times this month: "From a technical standpoint, we have cleared ISS to fly until the end of 2028."

But Russia—one of the station's most crucial partners—has already said it would withdraw from the program in 2025, marking the end of a significant period of international cooperation.

International Space Station
The International Space Station orbits Earth on May 23, 2011. China has now launched the first part of its own station. Paolo Nespoli/ESA/NASA/Getty