Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. 24/7 Space News .

Mr Xi in Space
by Morris Jones
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Nov 12, 2012

Xi Jinping

The recent change of leadership in China has made foreign policy analysts very busy. Nobody is completely sure of how Xi Jinping will steer China, or how the somewhat opaque machinery of China's political system will respond to him.

While it's not the most pressing issue for China watchers, it's still worthwhile asking one focused question: How will the ascendancy of Mr Xi affect China's ambitious plans in space?

In the short term, we can probably expect no changes at all. The new leader of China has more immediate concerns than spaceflight. Mr Xi and his government will be largely focused on critical matters such as economics, social problems and (hopefully) tackling corruption.

Ignoring the program will not be a problem for the next few years. The near-term future of China's human spaceflight program has been mapped out, and we can see China following a clearly defined path for the next decade. Next year, there will be a second expedition to Tiangong 1, China's first "space laboratory", which is really a small space station. Around 2014, Tiangong 2 will be launched.

Tiangong 3 will eventually follow, with the three space laboratories forming stepping stones toward a larger space station. The first element of this modular space station should be launched around 2020, and will probably happen before Mr Xi is himself replaced by another leader.

China will also pursue an ambitious program of robotic lunar exploration in the years ahead. Its first robot lunar landing will take place next year. Eventually, China hopes to return samples of lunar rocks with a robot spacecraft. Robot missions to Mars, scientific probes and a fleet of utility satellites will also be launched.

Beyond 2020, the future of China's space program is less clear. The most high-profile activity will probably involve operations aboard China's modular space station, which will probably operate for at least five years, and possibly as long as a decade. Plans for other activities are less visible right now.

It seems probable that Mr Xi will have the potential to influence Chinese spaceflight in the 2020s during his term of office, but the plans he instigates will probably remain invisible during his term.

Where does China want to go in space? It is clear by now that China is highly ambitious in spaceflight, and is currently one of only two nations with an active system for launching astronauts. Its bold human spaceflight plan is complemented by an ambitious plan to explore the Moon and Mars. China is also slowly developing a new fleet of rockets. There is clearly the potential for even greater feats in the long term .

As with most nations, China's space program serves multiple goals. It fulfils practical needs such as communications, navigation and Earth observation. It advances science and technology. It is also a highly inspirational symbol of China's strength to both domestic and international observers.

The political angles of Chinese spaceflight, especially its human spaceflight program, are probably more significant now than when the program was instigated. It is widely understood that China's Communist Party is struggling with its image, which has been heavily tainted by rampant corruption

amongst some Party officials and growing inequality in Chinese society. Achievements in spaceflight can inspire pride in the nation and the Party that governs it.

Spaceflight is expensive, but it is probably far easier to advance the space program than implement wide-ranging solutions to corruption and other deeply entrenched social problems.

A robust space program could also appeal to conservative political factions within the Party, and blend with an increasingly nationalist tone in Chinese politics and society.

Will a panicked Communist Party seize on spaceflight as one way to preserve national stability? It is clear that China's achievements in space have been given publicity in the media, but the space program has been relatively soft-pedaled. There is the potential to not only do more in space, but shine a stronger spotlight on the program.

We do not know if Mr Xi or the numerous cadres of China's Communist Party will make major changes to China's steady progress in spaceflight. They could decide to accelerate work on a "shock and awe" project such as landing Chinese astronauts on the Moon.

They could decide to make no changes to the current evolution of the program, which would still result in an impressive sequence of achievements. Or they could feel that the relatively modest investment in China's human spaceflight program should be scaled back.

It's hard for external observers to discern the future of China's space program beyond 2020, but it is probable that the Chinese themselves are still unsure. Some things are certain. Mr Xi will preside over a period of growing strength for spaceflight in China, and will also face the challenge of shaping its long-term future.

Dr Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst and writer. Email Replace NOSPAM with @ to send email.


Related Links
China National Space Administration
The Chinese Space Program - News, Policy and Technology
China News from

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

China plans manned space launch in 2013: state media
Beijing (AFP) Nov 10, 2012
China is aiming to launch its next manned space mission as early as June 2013, state media reported Saturday, as the country steps up its ambitious exploration programme. The Shenzhou-10, with three crew members, is aiming for a primary launch window in June, Niu Hongguang, deputy commander-in-chief of the manned space programme, told China National Radio in an interview Friday. Niu, spe ... read more

Moon crater yields impact clues

Study: Moon basin formed by giant impact

NASA's LADEE Spacecraft Gets Final Science Instrument Installed

Astrium presents results of its study into automatic landing near the Moon's south pole

More Driving And Imaging At 'Matijevic Hill'

Curiosity Team Switches Back to Earth Time

Survey of 'Matijevic Hill' Continues

Mars Longevity Champ Switching Computers

Obama Win Keeps NASA's Space Plans on Course

Next steps into the final frontier

CSA: Canada finds its space in space

Clarkson Professor Co-writes Book Promoting Space Exploration

Mr Xi in Space

China plans manned space launch in 2013: state media

China to launch manned spacecraft

Tiangong 1 Parked And Waiting As Shenzhou 10 Mission Prep Continues

Crew Prepares for Spacewalk After Progress Docks

Crew Preparing for Cargo Ship, Spacewalk

Russian cargo ship docks with ISS: official

Packed Week Ahead for Six-Member Crew

Ariane 5 is poised for Arianespace's launch with the EUTELSAT 21B and Star One C3 satellites

Ariane 5 orbits EUTELSAT 21B and Star One C3 satellites

Arianespace's heavy-lift Ariane 5 flight is cleared for liftoff with EUTELSAT 21B and Star One C3

NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building Prepared for Multiple Rockets

Discovery of a Giant Gap in the Disk of a Sun-like Star May Indicate Multiple Planets

New habitable zone super-Earth found in exosolar system

Cosmic sprinklers explained in active planetary nebula

Nearby six-planet system could be life friendly

India unveils new version of 'world's cheapest tablet'

Buzz building for debut of Wii U videogame console

NASA tests 'interplanetary Internet'

Atmospheric CO2 risks increasing space junk: study

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement