US restricts UAE’s 'Rashid 2' from boarding China’s mission to Moon

The 1976 International Traffic in Arms Regulations has been cited as the reason for the ban.
Christopher McFadden
Representational image: U.S. prevents UAE from collaborating with China to send "Rashid 2" to the Moon.


The United Arab Emirates had planned to send their "Rashid 2" rover as part of the Chang'e 7 mission to the moon, which is expected to launch in 2026. However, US technology transfer restrictions have prevented this from happening.

According to reports, the 1976 International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) have been cited as the reason for the ban. This law prohibits even the most common US-built widgets from being launched aboard Chinese rockets, which would violate the law if the "Rashid 2" rover used US-built components.

While this doesn't mean "Rashid 2" will never go to the moon, it may force the UAE to use authorized partners like Japan and SpaceX again or obtain a license. Critics have called for the ITAR restrictions to be updated, as they are outdated and have significantly impacted the US space industry. European companies are avoiding the ITAR restrictions by producing special product lines that do not use American parts.

According to John Logsdon, a professor emeritus of space policy at George Washington University, "There are a few exceptions for close US allies."

However, in the case of the UAE-China collaboration, a license would be needed to manufacture any US technology subject to ITAR incorporated into the "Rashid 2" rover.

This license or another agreement would have to explain how to keep the technology from getting into Chinese hands. Otherwise, the UAE must obtain permission to allow China access to the technology.

Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at Harvard University and a space program historian, said that many components built in the US or Europe with American sub-components are subject to restrictions to stop China from getting access to advanced technology.

The concern is that Chinese engineers could study the designs and take apart the "Rashid 2" rover when it arrives in Xichang for launch on China's rocket.

McDowell noted that the US had done something similar in the early days of the space race. The CIA briefly stole the Soviet "Luna 3" moon probe while it was on display in Mexico and returned the spacecraft after partially dismantling it and photographing its interior.

The planned Chang'e 7 mission will include an orbiter, lander, rover, hopper, and relay satellite. It will carry over a dozen instruments expected to operate for at least eight years and pave the way for constructing the China-led international lunar research station in the 2030s.

According to McDowell, the ITAR restrictions have led to China developing its technologies. He predicts that assuming the US does not change its attitude, more ITAR-free products will be developed in Europe and the UAE, and ultimately the rest of the world will depend less on buying US space products.

The ITAR restrictions have affected US space companies, and the industry has called for the law to be updated to reflect current technology trends.

The ITAR restrictions have been in place since 1976, and many argue that they are no longer relevant and are causing significant economic harm to the US space industry.

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