International cooperation is crucial to missions beyond Earth orbit, affirmed a panel of space agency leaders on 22 May.
Despite political and budgetary uncertainties, the leadership of prominent space agencies, including those of the US, Russia, Europe and India, said they remain committed to working together to achieve common goals, including the exploration of Mars and major science missions.
"Ultimately global partnerships are going to be critical to our success," says Vladimir Popovkin, head of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, speaking through a translator. Popovkin specifically notes the ExoMars programme, a cooperation between Russia and the European Space Agency (ESA), and discussions with Germany to build an astronomical observatory.
Noting the effective bond forged by the International Space Station (ISS) working group, built, maintained and operated by a diverse international group of space agencies, the agency chiefs said that despite some competition, there will ultimately be cooperation.
"We have no alternative but to cooperate," says Jean-Jacques Dordain, head of ESA. "But cooperation is difficult, and it's slow, much slower than competition. We have to work together to see how we can accelerate cooperation without putting at risk the value of cooperation."
The world is changing, we have to change," he adds. "The world will not be made of the recipes of the past."
Despite high levels of cooperation, especially for ISS, building a similar coalition would be complex. "We enjoy an advanced cooperation at this time, and to establish anything comparable would be an extremely difficult task," says Popovkin.
One division is the role of China, which is currently banned from working on the ISS due to US legal restrictions. The nation is a large and growing space power, with rapidly expanding capabilities and ambitions in space. The leaders of Canadian and European space agencies noted that cooperation with China would be beneficial. A representative from NASA, and another from India, a major geostrategic rival to China, did not comment on the issue.