China's Space Ambitions
RIA Novosti political commentator
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Aug 07, 2008
Everyone seems to be sure the Olympic Games in Beijing are destined to be a success. Given the scale of preparations, the event is likely to be unprecedented.
The Chinese are highly motivated and committed, which, combined with a phased approach, enables them to succeed in implementing any programs which Beijing turns its attention to.
The space program, along with purely military projects, is a number one priority for the Chinese government. It is therefore beyond doubt that the next decade will be marked with a major reshuffle on the space "chessboard". If China succeeds in executing its plans, it is likely to take the lead in space exploration in the near future.
This conclusion could easily be drawn from the history of China's space program.
It started in 1970, when the first Chinese-made satellite was launched. The initial phase was an attempt to overcome the lack of technology following the break with the Soviet Union in 1960. China focused on the manufacture of rockets and military satellites.
Between 1970 and 2000, China successfully launched 50 domestic-made space vehicles, having created the Long March series of carrier rockets on the basis of ICBMs.
But possessing carrier rockets and satellites was not in itself enough to secure China a place in the elite club of space powers.
For that it would have to prove itself capable of all kinds of space activities, from placing multi service satellite systems in low earth-orbits and carrying out manned flights to developing advanced deep space exploration programs.
Nowadays, broad international cooperation and commercial space services are integral to the success of any space program, whether pursued by a single country or a group of countries represented by one space agency.
Until the beginning of the new millennium, China had nothing of the kind. This forced Beijing to seek a tie-up with the U.S. and Russia to take part in the ISS program. The Americans, though, were not particularly eager to broaden the existing partnership, and China was left to focus on a domestic space program.
In October 2003, China's first successful manned flight proved Beijing's significant space capabilities.
The second round of China's struggle for space began. With its ability to conduct every kind of space activity in question, China planned to prove in the space of a few years what had taken other countries decades.
In October 2005, a second manned flight was also successful. Since 2003 China has launched 24 Chang Zheng carrier rockets and 22 domestically developed satellites of various types.
China's space vehicle family currently includes six series, including re-entry earth remote sensing satellites, DFH-4 (Dongfanghong, or East Is Red) communications and broadcasting satellites, FY (FengYun, or Wind and Cloud) weather satellites, and also scientific, experimental and navigation satellites.
A new series of marine monitoring satellites is under development, and a small satellites program is also being accelerated.
China currently uses a domestic-made space navigation system based on 4 Beidou (Compass) geostationary satellites orbiting at 36,000 kilometers from the earth's surface. Beijing has already announced development of a domestic global navigation system.
In October 2007, China launched its first satellite for lunar exploration, the Changye-1, which managed to collect all the necessary information to create a full map of the Moon's surface. A two-man flight, which would include a spacewalk, is already being planned.
China's achievements are impressive. "The China Aerospace and Technology Corporation (CASTC) is aiming at covering 10% of the global commercial satellite market and 15% of commercial space launches by 2015," a statement issued by the corporation in late July says.
In other words, Beijing has proved it is capable of conducting all kinds of space activities independently. China is entering the third phase of space exploration.
Advancing in the commercial sector, the CASTC is also planning to land a robot on the moon by 2015, and launch a research laboratory in low earth orbit, which would be reached by new manned space vehicles.
Space exploration would be impossible without a sufficient earth-based infrastructure. China has announced the establishment of four new space industry centers in Shangxi and Sichuan provinces, in addition to the currently functioning ones in Beijing and Shanghai.
Now the Americans, including NASA chief Michael Griffin, are no longer sure that the Star-Spangled Banner will be the first flag to return to the Moon. In late 2007, in a speech marking the 50 years of NASA in Washington, Michael Griffin said China was capable of landing on the Moon ahead of the U.S.
And he's probably right...
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
Source: RIA Novosti
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