20080318-csp03.jpg China has a highly-developed space program. Most rockets are launched from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch facility in the Gobi desert in Shanxi province in northern China or the Xichang Launch Center in southwestern Sichuan Province. Manned space flights take off from the Jiuquan launch site in the Gobi desert in Gansu and land on the plains of Inner Mongolia. The Xichang facility is where many of China’s satellites are launched. It encourages tourists to come and watch launches and has its own museum. The are plans to build a combined launch facility and theme park on a 3,000-acre site Hainan Island that will open in 2012.

China reached a major milestone when it launched a man into space in 2003. In the beginning it saw space flight as a means realizing military ambitions and achieving economic development, using satellites for things like finding oil and fertile land, monitoring weather and choosing places to build roads and railroads. Later it saw space exploration as a way for the Beijing government to boost its prestige and display its position as a world power.

NASA administrator Mike Griffin told the Washington Post, “The Chinese have a carefully thought-out human space-flight program that will take them up to parity with the United States and Russia. They’re investing to make China a strategic world power second to none — not so much to become a grand military power, but because deals and advantages flow to world leaders.”

Ouyang Ziyuan, a space expert at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Newsweek, that China’s space program “suggests comprehensive national strength” thereby “increasing China’s prestige and the cohesive power of the Chinese nation.”

China hopes its space program will help it locate resources on earth and assist in the development of more sophisticated military technology and inventions the Chinese can patent.

China’s space program is closely linked with the military and has its pick of China’s best scientists. China’s manned space program is run by the military and shrouded in secrecy. According to the Chinese government the civilian space budget in 2007 was $500 million. The budget figures for the program are secret but are probably over several billion dollars a year.

The Journal of UFO Research is China's premier publication devoted to investigating the paranormal. A typical issue is mostly made up of stories has anything to do with UFOs. The maincover feature of the issue that cam out in March 2009 is all about poltergeists while the second feature article is a translation of “The Top Ten Ways to Destroy the Earth” by Sam Hughes, to which the magazine has added the subtitle “UFO Top Ten.” None of the destruction methods is UFO-related. Most of the UFO content consisted of summaries of UFO reports in the Chinese media over the past few decades. [Source:, March 24, 2009]

Good Websites and Sources: Space Daily Dragons in Space ; History Chinese Space Program ; China National Space Administration ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chinese Space Program Links ; Library of Congress Report pdf file ; News ; Links in this Website: SCIENCE IN CHINA ; CHINESE INVENTIONS--GUNPOWDER, MACHINES, FOODS AND CHAIRS ; CHINESE INVENTIONS --PAPER, MONEY, ASTRONOMY, CLOCKS ; TECHNOLOGY INDUSTRIES IN CHINA ;

History of the Chinese Space Program

Because relations were strained for a long time with the Soviet Union and the United States, China achieved many milestones in space on its own. The Chinese space program also managed to survive the Cultural Revolution and trade restrictions on “dual purpose” technology from United States that can be used on missiles as well as rockets.

China opened its first missile and rocket research center in 1956. In the 1950s, Qian Xuesen, an alleged Cold war spy, was deported from the United States to China, where he helped launch China’s early rocket and satellite program, with Soviet help until 1960. China developed its first rocket — the Long March — in the 1960s, The first Long March rocket was launched in 1970. It carried a satellite, the Dong Fang Hong 1, making China the fifth country to send a satellite into orbit.

Mao Zedong once lamented that the country could not even launch a potato into space. The Cultural Revolution brought China’s space program to a halt. Many scientists were imprisoned or killed.

In the 1980s, anxious to make up for time lost under Mao, China poured money and resources into its space program with the hope of launching satellites for other nations to earn money. Since then China has slowly been gaining the know how and technology that the Americans and Soviets gained during the “space race” in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

In 1990, China launched the AsiaSat 1 communications satellite, marking the beginning of its commercial launch service. In the 1990s, after U.S., firms were accused of aiding Chinese missile programs, the U.S. worked to get China excluded from the commercial launch market and rejected China’s bid to join the International Space Station.

Joan Johnson-Freese, a Chinese space expert at the Naval War College, told National Geographic, “The Chinese and the American are a bit like the tortoise and the hare. The Chinese plod along, launching every few years. The American sprint but haven’t been consistent.”

In September 2009, China broke ground on its forth space enter, on Hainan island that is slated to open in 2013. Located at 19 degrees N latitude closer to the equator than other launch sites, it is better for launching geostationary satellites and will be equipped to handle new 25-ton boosters that China will use to lift modules for its space station.

Qian Xuesen, Father of China's Space Program

Qian Xuesen (1911-2009) was one of the greatest Chinese scientists of the modern era, and a man widely regarded as the father of China's missile and space program. The son of a government official, Qian was born in the city of Hangzhou in the coastal province of Zhejiang. He was educated at Shanghai Jiaotong University, and, in 1935, with the help of a scholarship, went first to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the U.S., and then, a year later, to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he was to be awarded his doctorate, and be based for the next two decades. One of Qian's colleagues in the 1930s had called Qian a scientist of genius. [Source: Kerry Brown The Guardian, November 1, 2009]

During World War II, in California, Qian worked on jet propulsion. With a number of other key US scientists, responding to the German V1 and V2 rockets, he devised a range of highly effective missiles, which proved crucial in the final stages of the war effort. Qian also participated in the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb. As a result of this, he was made the first director of the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Jet Propulsion Center at Caltech in 1949.

In 1949, as the communists were laying claim to China, Qian was accused of being a communist sympathizer, based on claims that his name had appeared on Communist party documents as early as the late 1930s. His application for US citizenship was subsequently denied, and he was detained after applying to leave America. One U.S. official at the time called this the “stupidest thing this country ever did”. In 1955, Qian was allowed to return to China.

The U.S.'s loss was China's gain, at a critical period in its development. Qian was immediately allowed to establish an Institute of Mechanics in Beijing, and to work within the state-established Chinese Academy of Science. His skills and knowledge were absolutely critical at a time when many of China's most talented scientists had refused to return home because of the political changes that had taken place there. A symbol of the respect and trust Qian enjoyed was his admission to the Communist party in 1958. He started work on what was to become the Dongfeng missile.

As a result both of his work, and of support from the Soviet Union, China was able to test its own atomic bomb in 1963-64. Qian seems to have been largely unaffected by the tumult of the Cultural Revolution, probably because he was working in such a key national strategic area. While chaos reigned in the rest of China, military and technical research continued unaffected.

Qian's contribution to China's space and missile program cannot be underestimated. Much of the technology behind the Shenzhou rockets, launched into space from the 1990s onwards to much national fanfare, can be traced back to research that Qian undertook. And much of that was based on what he had studied in the U.S. during his 20 years there. He was married to highly acclaimed Beijing opera singer Jiang Ying.

History of China’s Manned Space Program

China launched its manned space program in the 1970s but abandoned it and then relaunched it 1992, partly based on the successful launch of a Long March CZ-2E, a rocket capable of carrying a payload of 20,000 pounds, on July 16, 1990. China announced in the 1990s it would “put a man in space right after the year 2000". It had hoped to send astronauts in space to celebrate the 50th anniversary (in 1999) of the Communist takeover of China but it didn't make that deadline due to problems in developing a rocket capable of carrying a manned capsule.

In October 1996, Chinese astronauts trainees began spaceflight training in Moscow. They were trained to fly the Shenzhou ("Magic Vessel") spacecraft, a 8.4-ton capsule capable of carrying three people. The Shenzhou is modeled after the Russian Soyuz crafts but had many improvements added such as electricity-generating solar panels that allow it to stay in space for weeks at a time. To lift it the Chinese developed the CZ-2F, a Long March rocket capable of carrying a payload of 10 metric tons. The Soyuz has been the workhorse of the Soviet and Russian space programs and is still in use.

In 1999, China launched its first unmanned Shezhou experimental spacecraft. And followed that with three other successful launches of unmanned versions of the Shenzhou in the early 2000s. Shenzhou II carried a monkey, dogs, a rabbit and a snail. Shenzou 3 circled the earth 108 times and landed safely on earth. In December 2002, China successfully launched and landed its forth unmanned craft, Shenzhou 4. It was the final test before the manned flight ten months later.

When astronauts return to earth they are seated in folding chairs to get used to Earth’s gravity and are greeted with flowers and applause, In interviews the the astronauts say things like they are “proud of the motherland.”

China’s First Man in Space

20080318-sz5-in-3 Yang Lewei SAST.jpg
Yang Lewei in space

In October 2003, China launched a man into space, making it the third nation to do so after Russia and the United States. Yang Lewei became China’s first “space hero” after he traveled in space for 21½ hours and completed 14 orbits of the earth in his teapot-shaped Shenzhou 5 before landing on the plains of Inner Mongolia. The mission was regarded as a great success and propaganda coup at home in China. The China Daily called it the “Great Leap Skyward.” Other publications said it was a confirmation of China’s status as a “great power.”

Chinese astronauts are called taikonauts. “Taikong” is the Chinese word for “outer space.” Yang — a 38-year-old fighter pilot’said he felt a “little fatigued” after the flight. He spent about 20 hours space and during that time managed to eat a meal of diced chicken and rice with dates and nuts and sleep for three or so hours. “Of course I wish it had lasted a bit longer,” he said after he returned to earth, but overall it was a good flight, with the craft performing “entirely according to program.” He said the view was “extremely splendid.”

Coverage of the flight began 28 minutes after lift off from the Jiuquan launch site in the Gobi desert in Gansu. The government had originally wanted to show the launch live but blacked it out at the last minute, apparently worried about the fall out if there was an accident. The landing Yang said produced “a heavy impact” but that failed to disrupt his “excellent mood.” “I felt proud for o

Yang brought with him a kilogram of seeds that were irradiated in space to increase crop yields. Seeds had been sent in space on all the unmanned Shenzhou missions. Scientists from other countries have wondered why China did this, considering that irradiating seeds can be done easily in a laboratory on Earth.

Yang Liwei

Yang traveling more than 500,000 kilometers during his 21-hour space voyage. "What I saw is testimony to the advance of China's manned space technology," he later said. "I jotted down a line in my log to express my excitement and pride: 'The Chinese have arrived in space, for the peace and progress of humanity'."

Yang is from Suizhong county, Liaoning province. He speaks with a northeastern accent, often adopted by comedians. In his autobiography “The Long March to Space” Yang said he was scared of heights as a kid and lost 10 kilograms soon after a media tour of Hong Kong, Macao and a few cities on the Chinese mainland, because he was so nervous in front of the press. When he was kid he wrote: "When my mother asked me to fetch sweet potatoes from a four-meter-tall wooden shed roof, I became so nervous I broke into a sweat and couldn't do it...It was my parents who took every opportunity to develop my courage, until I climbed a 30-meter pine tree one day." [Source: Yang Guang, China Daily, January 24, 2011]

20080318-sz5-in-3 Yang Lewei SASsT.jpg landing site.jpg
Yang's landing site
in Inner Mongolia
Yang joined the People's Liberation Army in 1983 and graduated from the air force's aviation college four years later. He was then transferred to serve in Gansu, Shaanxi, Sichuan provinces and Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. The toughest time of his life, he says, was in 1993 when the pilot learned to fly a fighter plane. His garrison was in a remote area and his family found it difficult to settle. Many of Yang's 22 fellow pilots chose to transfer to civilian work at airline companies during this period because of the physical and mental demands. "If there was a trough in my career, this was it," he says. "I felt the double burden of work and life." In 1996, having logged 1,350 flight-hours, Yang participated in the screening process for astronauts. Out of 1,500 candidates he was one of the 14 chosen to train at the astronaut center in Beijing.

The country's first batch of would-be astronauts underwent five years of physical, technical and psychological training, receiving lessons in aviation dynamics, space navigation and rocket design, among other subjects. "After endless rounds of overloaded training, I arrived at one rule: When you hold on till you think you can't, you are close to success," Yang says. His selection for the space mission was only made public one day before the launch. He describes in his book the marvels he witnessed in the capsule.

As China's first person in space, Yang received the title of "Space Hero" from the former chairman of the Central Military Commission Jiang Zemin. Russia awarded him the Gagarin medal. The Chinese University of Hong Kong conferred an honorary doctorate. And an asteroid was named after him. Regarding the awards, Yang wrote a note of encouragement on his son's desk: "For you, the honors come from dad; for dad, the honors come from the army and the country."

For a long time after his space flight Yang worked with research personnel on the records of his spaceflight, described his physical and mental condition and provided suggestions. Thanks to his feedback, over 100 improvements were made for the manned Shenzhou VI and Shenzhou VII flights. He also played an important role in the planning of later spaceflights.

Yang Liwei was promoted to Major General and was named the deputy director of China Manned Space Engineering Office at the age of 45 in May 2010. Despite his administrative duties, the Yang has maintained his fitness as a result of continued spaceflight training and said he wants to return to space.

China’s Second Men in Space

In October 2005, China launched two astronauts into orbit in it second manned space mission on Shenzhou-6. The astronauts — 41-year-old Nie Haisheng and 40-year-old Fei Junlong — were both colonels in the PLA selected form a group of 14 elite fighter pilots.

Chinese television showed the launch live. The two astronauts circled the globe for five days. Newspaper photographs showed the astronauts doing somersaults and performing other antics in zero gravity. A conversation between them and Chinese President Hu Jintao was broadcast live on television,

China’s Third Manned Space Flight

In September 2008, China launched its third manned space flight with three astronauts. Chinese astronauts Zhai Zhigang became the first Chinese man to walk in space when he clambered out of the Shenzhou 7 for a 15-minute spacewalk in a 120-kilogram, $4.4 million, Chinese-made space suit that has 10 layers and takes 15 hours to put on. Attached to the capsule by red cables, he waved a Chinese flag and retrieved a test sample of “solid lubricant” from outside the spacecraft while his fellow astronauts Liu Boming popped his head out for a look.

The mission was launched on a March 2-F rocket from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the deserts of Gansu Province. The space walk was shown live on Chinese television at 4:30pm. When Zhai emerged and waved at the camera the CCTV anchor said,’shenzhou 7 is saying hello to all the people of China and people all over the world.” After 68 hours in space the three astronauts returned to Earth, landing in Siziwang Banner in northern Inner Mongolia.

China Launches Module for Space Station

China launched two unmanned space capsules — Tiangong 1 and Shenzhou 8, which accomplished the country's first space docking — in 2011. the Tiangong-1, or “Heavenly Palace”, is a space module. It weighs 8.5 tons and can l operate for a long-period of unattended operation, an essential step to building a space station.

In September 2011, AP reported, China launched an experimental module to lay the groundwork for a future space station, underscoring its ambitions to become a major space power over the coming decade. The box car-sized Tiangong-1 module was shot into space from the Jiuquan launch centre on the edge of the Gobi Desert aboard a Long March 2FT1 rocket. [Source: Christopher Bodeen, September 30, 2011]

It is to move into an orbit 350km above the Earth and conduct surveys of Chinese farmland using special cameras, along with experiments involving growing crystals in zero gravity. China then plans to launch an unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft to practice remote-controlled docking manoeuvres with the module, possibly within the next few weeks. Two more missions, at least one of them manned, are to meet up with it next year for further practice, with astronauts staying for up to one month.The 8.5-ton module, whose name translates as "Heavenly Palace-1," is to stay aloft for two years, after which two other experimental modules are to be launched for additional tests before the actual station is launched in three sections between 2020 and 2022.

At about 60 tons when completed, the Chinese station will be considerably smaller than the 16-nation ISS, which is expected to continue operating through 2028."This is a significant test. We've never done such a thing before," Lu Jinrong, the launch centre's chief engineer, was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency. The space station, which is yet to be formally named, is the most ambitious project in China's exploration of space, which also calls for landing on the moon, possibly with astronauts.

In terms of technology, the launch of the Tiangong-1 places China about where the US was in the 1960s during the Gemini program. While it is planning fewer launches than the US carried out, the Chinese program progresses farther than the US did with each launch it undertakes, said Joan Johnson-Freese, a space expert at the US Naval War College in Rhode Island.

China Completes First Space Docking Test

In November 2011, AP reported: The Shenzhou 8 craft landed by parachute in China's western desert late Thursday after more than two weeks in space. It docked twice with the Tiangong 1 module, which remains in orbit, during a mission proving China capable of successfully docking by remote control. Early U.S. astronauts did so manually. "It represents a major breakthrough for our country's space rendezvous and docking technology program," said Wang Zhaoyao, deputy director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office. China will conduct two more space docking missions next year, one of them manned, and plans to complete a manned space station around 2020. At about 60 tons, the Chinese station will be considerably smaller than the 16-nation International Space Station. [Source: AP, November 17, 2011]

Two weeks earlier Reuters reported: “China successfully carried out its first docking exercise between two unmanned spacecraft, a key test of the rising power's plans to secure a long-term manned foothold in space. The Shenzhou 8 spacecraft joined the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1 module about 340 km (211 miles) above Earth, in a manoeuvre carried live on state television in the early hours of the morning. The 10.5 metre-long unmanned Tiangong, launched on September 29, is part of China's preparations for a space laboratory at some point in the future. [Source: Ben Blanchard, Reuters, November 3 2011]

Premier Wen Jiabao and other senior leaders oversaw the operation from a command centre in Beijing, a measure of the importance the government attaches to this mission and to China's space ambitions in general. "We believe that making this breakthrough and mastering the space docking technology is a meaningful and historic breakthrough for our country and a huge technical leap forward," Wu Ping, spokeswoman for China's Manned Space Engineering Programme, told a news conference.

Wu said all of the components in the docking mechanism, as well as 600 onboard instruments, were designed and manufactured by Chinese firms, mostly state-owned enterprises. Rendezvous and docking exercises between the two vessels are an important aspect of China's efforts to acquire the technological and logistical skills needed to run a full space lab that can house astronauts for long periods.

The next stage will be two similar docking exercises in 2012, with at least one expected to carry astronauts. “The perfect docking between Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 has laid the perfect foundation for the manned docking this year,” Niu Hongguang, deputy commander-in-chief of the country’s manned space programme said, noting that the manned docking will feature brand new technology. Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace-1, has been orbiting normally for more than 160 days, and is capable of docking with Shenzhou-9 and accommodating astronauts, he said in March 2012.

The docking mission is the latest show of China's growing prowess in space, alongside its growing military and diplomatic presence -- at a time when budget restraints and shifting priorities have held back U.S. manned space launches. Beijing, however, is still far from catching up with the established space superpowers: the United States and Russia. Docking techniques such as those which China is only testing now were mastered by the United States and Russia decades ago, and the Tiangong 1 is a trial module, not the building block of a space station.

Three Chinese Astronauts Sent to Space in 2012

In June 2012, Boris Cambreleng of AFP wrote: “Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth as heroes after carrying out China's most complex and longest mission in orbit, vital steps in the country's effort to build a space station by 2020. The 13-day voyage also saw China send a woman into space for the first time. [Source: Boris Cambreleng, AFP, June 28, 2012]

The charred return capsule of the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, which means Divine Vessel in Chinese, hit the ground in a remote area of northern China and rolled over after an approach slowed by a large parachute. As the three were finally pulled out still wearing their white space suits, they waved, smiled and gave thumbs up signals, then made patriotic comments for the television audience. "We have successfully accomplished the first manned docking mission for China and have now returned to home," said crew leader Jing Haipeng, 45, who has been on three of the country's four manned space missions. "Thanks to our country, thanks to the care and love from people of all ethnic groups of the country. Thanks." The history-making female member of the crew, Liu Yang, a 33-year-old air force pilot, was in similarly good spirits, saying she felt "warm and comfortable" throughout the trip.

“During their mission the crew successfully carried out China's first manual space docking, an extremely difficult move that is essential in the process of building a space station — which Beijing aims to do by 2020. The manoeuvre -- completed by the Americans and Russians in the 1960s -- requires two vessels orbiting Earth at thousands of kilometres (miles) per hour to come together very gently to avoid destroying each other. It was the main goal of the mission and the team rehearsed the procedure more than 1,500 times in simulations.

“Morris Jones, an Australia-based independent expert on China's programme, said the length of the space flight -- the crew spent most of the 13 days in the Tiangong-1 module -- was more significant than the manual space docking. "This is China's longest and most complex space flight to date," Jones said. "The most important thing about the mission is something they haven't said openly and it's the fact that this Tiangong laboratory is more than just a laboratory. It is a proper space station, albeit a very small one.”

“China has spent 39 billion yuan ($6.1 billion) over the past two decades on its efforts to build a permanent manned space station, according to government figures. The programme kicked off in 1999 with the launch of Shenzhou-1, with no crew on board. Two years later, Shenzhou-2 lifted off with small animals aboard, and in 2003, China sent its first man into space. Since then, it has completed a space walk in 2008 and an unmanned docking between a module and rocket last year.

“French space expert Isabelle Sourbes-Verger agreed the latest successful mission had helped cement China's status in these areas. "By demonstrating that they master (these procedures), China fully enters the club of big powers in human occupation (of space)," said Sourbes-Verger, from France's National Centre for Scientific Research. "The political objectives for the space programme -- to be able to demonstrate indisputable technological and scientific competence -- have been reached.”

China First Female Astronaut

People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force fighter pilot Liu Yang is China's first woman in space. The Shenzhou-9 launched, carrying Liu Yang and two male astronauts, Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang. Liu, 33, was the deputy head of a flight unit in the nation's air force, according to China's Xinhua news agency. She is a veteran pilot with 1,680 hours of flying experience, and excelled in space testing after two years of training. [Source: CNN, June 16, 2012]

“Participation of women in space will aid training, improve flight crew equipment and expand knowledge on the physical and psychological effects of space on women, said Wu Ping, a spokeswoman for China's manned space program. "It will also further expand the social impact of human space missions and showcase the positive image of Chinese women," Wu said before the launch. "As a woman, I am eagerly looking forward to this flight with a female astronaut.”

“The orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module was launched into space in September, and two months later it successfully completed China's first space docking with an unmanned spacecraft, Shenzhou-8, according to Xinhua news agency.

Level and Threats of the Chinese Space Program

The Chinese space program is currently about where the United States was in the mid 1960s. "China has the advantage, 40-plus years later, of not having to start at the bottom of the learning curve on its human spaceflight program," Joan Johnson-Freese, a space expert at the US Naval War College in Rhode Island, told AP. China's authoritarian, centralised political system also offers the advantage of freedom from political wrangles over funding and clearly defines the program's long-term goals within Soviet-style five-year plans. [Source: Christopher Bodeen, September 30, 2011]

However, habitual secrecy and the space program's close links with the military have inhibited co-operation with other nations' space programs - including the International Space Station. China applied repeatedly to join the ISS, but was rebuffed largely on objections from the US, prompting it to adopt a go-it-alone strategy. While the program has proceeded with no apparent major problems, the launch of the Tiangong-1 module was delayed for one year for technical reasons, and then rescheduled again after a Long March 2C rocket similar to the Long March 2F failed to reach orbit in August. The incident with the rocket was investigated and problems were reportedly resolved.

Although experts see no explicit military function for the Chinese space station, the country's other space-based military programs, including the destruction of a defunct Chinese satellite with a rocket in 2007, have caused alarm overseas. "It is a nation doing its own thing saying, 'OK, we can do what you did for our own country separate from co-operation, on Chinese terms,'" said Charles Vick, an expert on the Chinese space program with, which tracks military and security news.

Numerous challenges lie ahead. The Long March 5 rocket that is being prepared to launch the 20-ton modules for the actual space station, for example, remains untested. Still, Beijing is expected to press ahead whatever the difficulties as long as it continues to result in international prestige, domestic credibility, technological advancement, and economic spin-offs, Johnson-Freese and Vick said. "Basically, they will get what they want regardless of how long or what it takes for the authoritarian state to accomplish the assigned tasks," Vick said.

Chinese Lunar Projects

Chinese have long has a fascination with the moon. When the United States gave Beijing a one gram lunar “rock” in 1978 half of it was given to scientists who broke it up further and carefully studied it, producing 40 scientific papers.

In October 2007, China launched its first probe to the moon. Named Chang’e I after a legendary Chinese goddess who flew to the moon, the probe orbited 200 kilometers above the lunar surface, scanning its surface with advanced cameras and x-ray spectrometers and sending pictures back to earth for a year. Its mission was study the moon’s surface and scout out landing sites, before it crashed to the lunar surface in 2009.

In October 2010, China launched its second lunar probe — Chang 2. The plan was for it to fly as close as 15 kilometers to the lunar surface and was seen a crucial step in China’s goal for an unmanned lunar landing in 2013. It has more sophisticated instruments than Chang 1.

The Chinese were inspired U.S. President Kennedy’s goal to send a man to the moon and are well versed with the Apollo program. The launch of the moon probe came a month after Japan launched its own lunar probe and was seen as escalation of Asia’s undeclared space race which also includes India which plans to launch a lunar probe in April 2008.

China opened a lunar exploration center in 2005. It has a plan of launching three unmanned missions to the moon: a lunar orbiter, launched in 2007, a lunar probe on the surface of the moon and rover that can collect samples and bring them back to earth. The rover mission is slated for 2012. A devise designed to bring back soil samples back to earth is scheduled for 2017. A moon walk is scheduled in 2024. On the plan to build a moon base and extract lunar minerals one official said. “Our long-term goal is to set up a base on the moon and mine its riches for the benefit of humanity.”

One of the aims of China’s lunar missions is to explore the possibility of mining helium 3, a nonradioactive isotope that could be used to produce abundant energy through nuclear fusion. Lunar soil contains over 1 million tons of helium 3, which is emitted by the sun in solar wind and is deflected from the earth by its magnetic field but is absorbed by the lunar surface because the moon has no magnetic field. By one estimate 40 tons of helium 3 would be enough to meet the electrical needs of the United States for one year. The technology for such a practical fusion and lunar mining are still decades away

Future Chinese Space Projects


China has great ambitions in space. It has announced plans to establish a space station. It said it also hopes one day to set up a base on the moon to mine helium-3, a potential energy source, and one day colonize other planets, although one official admitted to Time that it will take “some 200 years to reconstruct Mars to make it sustainable to human life.”

China is currently advancing its manned space program in three steps: First, send astronauts into space and ensure their safe return; second, develop a space laboratory; third, establish a permanent manned space station. China has expressed interest in participating in the international space station but has been rejected. The Shenzhou is outfit with a docking ring that will allow it to dock with the international space station.

China plans to make a rudimentary space station by joining one Shenzhou capsule with another that it hopes will be permanently manned. The manned Shenzhou IX and Shenzhou X spacecrafts are scheduled to be launched in 2012 to dock with Tiangong 1 and Shenzhou 8. A space laboratory is expected to be developed and launched before 2016. Construction of a manned space station is to be completed around 2020. China aims to have a fully fledged space station by about 2020."The planned Chinese space station will be open to global scientists," the official Xinhua news agency said. "(A) foreign presence might also be welcomed aboard Chinese spacecraft in the future." Russia, the United States and other countries jointly operate the 400 tonne International Space Station, to which China does not belong. But the United States will not test a new rocket to take people into space until 2017, and Russia has said manned missions are no longer a priority.

China has plans for a mission to Mars. It and Russia plan to launch a Mars probe in 2011, two years after it was originally scheduled to be launched. China plans to launch a Mars probe of its own in 2013. China is working with Russia on Mars exploration projects and developing a satellite with France to study the sun. The United States has says that its open to the idea of cooperating with China in space, including joint moon exploration.

Chinese Satellites

As of late 2008, China had launched 79 satellites, including 10 in 2007

As of 2007, China had produced 52 satellites and had earned $920 million from launching satellites, including 10 in 2005.

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Chinese moon probe

The first Chinese satellite, the 381-pound DFH-1 was launched from a three stage rocket into space on April 24, 1970. Once in orbit it sent back broadcasts of "The East is Red." It carried so many Mao badges that scientists warned that too many might compromise the mission. China launched its first communications satellite on April 8, 1984. It was placed in stationary orbit and functioned for more than four years.

Many satellites are launched from the Xichang launch center in southwestern Sichuan Province using Long March 2C rockets. For some launches the government charges tourists $100 for access to two viewing platforms. Many Chinese satellites have military applications or direct military uses. China hopes to deploy a radar satellite in 2005 that keeps on eye on U.S. Navy ships off the coast of China even when it is cloudy.

China is setting up its own GPS system called Beidou. As of 2010 it was partly operation. A total of 25 satellites will be used in the system by 2020. Navigation satellites work by sending out a stream of data on its location and time, which is measured by an atomic clock. The receiver notes the difference between the time the data was sent by the satellite and the time it was received. Using this information it can calculate its own distance from the satellite, and then determine its own location. Radio waves travel at 300,000 kilometers per second. An error of 0.000001 second in time results in an error of 300 meters in distance. To accurately determine a location a locator needs to receive signals from at least four navigation satellites simultaneously.

China hopes to become a major player in the satellite launching business. Its low labor costs allow it undercut its competitors in Europe and the United States by a large margin. China has launched several U.S.-made satellites as well as remote sensing satellites it developed jointly with Brazil. As of 1999, it controlled 9 percent share of the world launch services.

Satellite controversy. See United States.

Recent Chinese Satellite Launches

Launching of Chinese moon probe

As of October 2003, China had launched 77 satellites. In a five year period between 2001 and 2006 China successfully launched 22 Changzheng rockets and orbited 23 satellites, which have included communication satellites, direct broadcasting satellites, meteorological satellites, navigation satellites and sea-monitoring satellites.

China had a string of embarrassing rocket failures in the 1990s. In January 1995, a $160-million U.S. satellite was lost and six people were killed when a booster rocket exploded less than a minute after take off, showering the ground with debris. In 1996, two more launches ended in failure and a Chinese satellite which had been orbiting out of control for 2½ years burned up in the atmosphere as it hurled toward the earth. On board the satellite was a diamond-encrusted commemorative Mao Zedong pin.

In July 2004, China launched a launched a Probe-2 satellite with the European Space Agency Europe aimed at studying magnetic storms and other space phenomena. In May 2007. China successfully launched a domestically-produced communications satellite for Nigeria on a Long March 3-B rocket.

China uses Long March 3-A rockets to launch its Sinosat communications satellites. SinoSat 33 was successfully deployed in June 2007. In November 2006, the Sinosat 2 communications and broadcasting satellite failed to a make it into orbit because of an unsuccessful attempt to deploy its solar panes and antennae.

In September 2009, an Indonesian communications satellite launched in China failed to make it to its proper orbit after the third stage of the rocket failed during ignition. In March China promised to replace for free a $349 million Nigerian communications satellite after it failed after 18 months in orbit.

In April 2009, China launched its second “Compass” navigation satellite that is part f its program to build an alternative to the U.S.’s global positioning system (GPS). China is cooperating with the European Space Agency (EA) to construct an a

China wants to build its own GPS system so it isn’t dependant on the U.S. system. Today China is experimenting with its own space navigation system, based on four satellites placed in geostationary orbit at 36,000 kilometers above the earth. China has said that it wants to have more than 100 satellites in the sky — watching every part of the country and monitoring things like forest cover, construction, farmland and water supplies — by 2020.

China has received an order from France to launch a satellite.

In November 2009, PLA Air Force commander Xu Qiliang was quoted by Xinhua as saying that China’s air force would develop capabilities for offensive and defensive operations in space and that “only power could protect.” Even though Chinese President Hu Jintao said afterwards that China was committed to “peaceful” pursuits in space that didn’t stop Washington from saying it was going to take a closer look at China’s “intent” in space.

The video China released of the Tiangong-1 launch strangley enough video was set to the tune of America the Beautiful, an unofficial national anthem of the United States. It could hardly be more different from the music associated with the launch of China's first rocket in 1970. That satellite transmitted the Cultural Revolution anthem, The East is Red, extolling the virtues of the Communist party and Chairman Mao. [Source: Warren Murray, The Guardian, September 29, 2011]

The choice of soundtrack for the Tiangong launch raised several questions. Is this the work of an idealist seeking to usher in a new era of trans-Pacific co-operation, a nationalist who wants to colonise American culture as well as outer space, or simply a propaganda gaffe? When asked why an American hymn was chosen, the state channel appeared to be stumped.

"I don't know how to answer your question," Chen Zhansheng of the CCTV propaganda department said. "I cannot help you." It’s not the first time such a slip-up has occurred.In January 2011 CCTV aired a bulletin about air force training that included a clip lifted from the Tom Cruise film “Top Gun“. CCTV has posted the offending Tiangong-1 animation on the English version of its own website though the link may well die once the error comes to the station directors' attention. The clip carrying America the Beautiful was also distributed to western news agencies.

Image Sources: 1, 4) Landsberger Posters; 2, 3) Xinhua,

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2012

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