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China works for Mars and Moon missions

RIA Novosti

16:57 19/10/2009 MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Alexander Peslyak) - The launch of a Russian Phobos Grunt probe to Mars on October 16 has been delayed until 2011.

The delay also affects China's first mission to Mars. The 240-pound Chinese Yinghou-1 spacecraft was to be mounted atop the Russian spacecraft for transport to the Martian orbit, where it was to be released before the Russian spacecraft landed on Phobos.

The delay, however, gives us grounds to analyze China's achievements in space exploration, especially in the year of the 60th anniversary of its establishment as the People's Republic of China, when the Chinese economy has growth 8% despite the global economic downturn. It spends over $3.5 billion on space exploration annually.

Since its first steps made in the sphere of space technology with Soviet assistance in 1956, China "has made eye-catching achievements, and ranks among the world's most advanced countries in some important fields of space technology," reads the government's White Paper on "China's Space Activities in 2006."

Summing up China's space achievements of the past ten years, we can pinpoint the following trends. It has increased the sphere of satellite application and orbited over 100 of its own and foreign spacecraft. Working in the interests of national security and economic, social and technological development, China has focused on several spheres of space exploration, including telecommunications and broadcasting satellites Dongfanghong, weather satellites Fengyun (there will be eight of them), research and technological experiment satellites Shijian and Yaogan, Earth remote sensing satellites Ziyuan, and the Beidou navigation system.

Second, its space exploration program has brought practical benefits to the national economy, with satellites helping in remote sensing of mineral reserves, environmental protection, the construction of the West-East natural gas pipeline, the project to move water from the southern to the northern provinces, and the construction of the Sanxia (Three Gorges Dam) power plant on the Yangtze.

The Fengyun-3A satellite ensured quality weather forecasts for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the space walks by Chinese astronauts, sometimes referred to as "taikonauts." The information it provides is crucial for timely warnings of upcoming natural disasters, which happen in China often. Last year alone, they claimed nearly 90,000 lives, and there were several killer typhoons this year.

Third, the Chinese government has set the goal of advancing from experimental satellites to a practical space industry. Chinese scientists are now working not only to launch but also to create foreign satellites. It has contracts with Venezuela, Bolivia, Indonesia and Singapore.

Fourth, while actively creating orbital satellites, China is cooperating in all spheres of space exploration with France, Germany, Ukraine, Nigeria and Argentina. The first collaborative effort between China and the European Space Agency, the Double Star Project (DSP), or Tan Ce (TC), completed its first mission in 2007.

The 16 Dragon research projects, which use data from the ESA and Chinese Earth observation satellites, cover agriculture, forest, water, weather, ocean studies and natural disaster forecasting.

The Chinese-Brazilian SBERS-2B system launched more than ten years ago to a 700-km orbit supplies high-resolution imagery satellite photographs of city neighborhoods with a 2-meter resolution.

China and Russia have recently signed a document on joint use of the GLONASS and Beidou navigation and control systems.

Fifth, Beijing has stepped up regional cooperation and is reinforcing its position as a leader. The Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO), which has been effective since late last year, comprises China, Bangladesh, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru and Thailand.

China and Russia have recently proposed establishing a space communication system of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

China is strengthening the physical plant for these programs. It is setting up a remote sensing research center, which will have equipment covering up to 70% of Asia. Professionals at the Xian Satellite Control Center have learned to use one network to simultaneously control several spacecraft. Last year, China joined the group of the world's leaders with the largest number of Earth imagery satellites (it has six such satellites). It is building a center for creating, building and testing satellites in Shenzhen, where two institutions and a space corporation will produce four or five satellites and components for them annually.

China is building a fourth spaceport, on the island of Hainan. It is to be commissioned in 2013 by launching a new heavy booster capable of orbiting up to 25 tons of cargo. The Chang Zheng-5 booster will be the second most powerful in the world, with 120- and 50-ton engines working on a combination fuel of liquid oxygen and jet fuel, and oxygen-hydrogen, said Liang Xiaohong, vice president of the China Academy of Space Technology.

China's biggest victory in space in 2009 was the Chang'e-1 orbiter, which orbited the Moon for a year using 3D equipment to photograph it before falling on it. Ye Peijian, China's chief spacecraft designer, said the second phase of the project stipulates launching the Chang'e-3 probe in 2013 on a soft landing and probing mission.

"However, the key technological task is to return the probe to the Earth," said a professor at the Beihang University (formerly Beijing Institute of Aeronautics) or BUAA. "It is planned for 2017-2020, when the orbiters sent to the Moon will bring soil samples to the Earth."

A time-out has been taken for the manned program to choose seven astronauts, both men and women. Last year's space walk by Zhai Zhigang from the Shenzhou-7 spacecraft made China the world's third space power capable of working outside orbited spacecraft.

The new phase scheduled for next year implies the launch of an unmanned module weighing 8.5 tons, to be docked with an unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft and a manned Shenzhou-9 a year later. The docking of the "Divine Craft", as Shenzhou translates from the Chinese, to the International Space Station is so far not on the agenda.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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