Andrezj Jeziorski/PARIS


US President Bill Clinton has approved the 7 June launch of an Iridium communications satellite from China, despite fears of a fresh US clampdown on Chinese launches of US spacecraft.

White House officials have hastened to deny any link between this decision and the furore between the USA and China over NATO's mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade on 7 May.

US politicians and defence officials claim hat China has been using satellite launch co-operation to secure technology applicable to its missile programmes. These fears led to the transfer of authority for export licence decisions from the US Commerce Department to the State Department.

This move raised fears in the industry and in US Congress, where lawmakers have questioned whether the resulting slowdown of licensing decisions could damage the US industry. Industry officials complain that the changes are effectively hindering the export of US satellite components.

"The transfer-is bad news for everybody," says China Great Wall Industry vice-president Liu Zhixiong. "If the US Government does not allow launches [of US satellites from China], then they lose the Chinese market and they totally give this market to European companies," he adds. The US-built Chinasat 8 and another Iridium satellite are awaiting export licences before launch dates are fixed.

About $1 billion in US sales has been lost because of the licensing change, says the Aerospace Industries Association. Some US Congressmen are understood to be considering drafting legislation to return export licensing to the Commerce Department.

The US president says that the June Iridium launch will not be detrimental to the US space industry, and that it will not improve China's "missile or space launch capabilities".

Source: Flight International