China and Life Science in Space
Similar to early experiments by the USSR, PRC launched animals, including dogs and mice, on suborbital flights in the mid 1960s. Early Chinese efforts focused mainly on unmanned military and civilian space applications, thus life sciences experiments were few. In the 1980's the Great Wall Industries Corporation began promoting commercial applications the Chinese space program, including the opportunity to fly small life sciences payloads on board the FSW recoverable spacecraft which had been developed as an observation platform. The first Western payload was launched 5 August 1987 for the French aerospace company Matra Marconi and was a biological microgravity experiment (References 18-19).
In July, 1993, the China Satellite Launch Agents of Hong Kong Ltd. was established to promote the commercial use of Chinese recoverable spacecraft. COSTIND's Institute of Aerospace Medicine is working on the development of life-support systems and preparing the piloted flights anticipated around the turn of the millennium.
A Chinese biosatellite, FSW-1 3, was launched 5 October 1990 from Jiuquan. Sixty animals and plants were included on the mission, including rats and guinea pigs. Primary studies focused on the effects of weightless ness on metabolism, food requirements, and excretion. The experiments and biosystems were developed by the Astronautical Engineering Institute of the State Commission of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense. The recoverable capsule was returned to Earth eight days after launch. The mission initial altitude was 208-311 km at an inclination of 57.0 degrees (References 20-23).
China's Institute of Hydrobiology fielded a group of experiments on FSW-1 4, launched from Jiuquan 6 October 1992. The biosatellite payload included algae, microorganism, rotifers, and a small aquatic creature. Dr. Liu Yongding, impute Deputy Director, said that the algae experiments were particularly successful, with one new form of blue algae produced. The Chinese are considering algae as a potential food source for astronauts on long space missions. The FSW-1 was deployed in an orbit at 213-309 m altitude with an inclination of 63.0 degrees (Reference 24). Future Chinese life sciences experiments may be flown on the more capable FSW which was introduced in 1992.
In June 2000 it was reported that China's space and agriculture departments were considering launching a satellite specially designed for seed-breeding in space. "Space seed-breeding is expected to become a strong driving force behind Chinese agriculture in the 21st century since it can bring about high-yield and high-quality crops that are hard for ordinary breeding methods to obtain," said Liu Luxiang, director of the Aerospace Breeding Center under the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Xinhua reported that in space seed-breeding, seeds are sent into space in recoverable space vehicles or high-altitude balloons, where they then mutate in conditions that feature micro-gravity and cosmic radiation. Back on earth, the seeds are planted and used for breeding "fine strains that are disease-resistant, early-maturing, high-quality and high-yield." In December 2000 it was reported that China's first "Seed Satellite" was ready for launch. Developed by CAST, the "Seeds Satellite" is a recoverable satellite (FSW-18 or FSW-3.1) that will carry about 250-300kg of plant seeds for experiements in creating new plant variants by exposing seeds to the space environment.
In 2005 it was reported that China's first "seeds satellite" would be launched in 2006. The "seeds that return from the outer space" will bring about more "space foods" for people. As journalist learns from the Chinese Academy of Science and Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science, research work for a scientific experimental satellite dedicated to space breeding has begun, and the satellite is expected to lift off in the latter half of 2006. The "seeds satellite" is expected to carry 250 to 300 kilograms seeds, including seeds of grains, vegetables, fruits and trees. To ensure the seeds' safe return, experts will create a favorable environment for seeds in the reentry capsule by taking waterproof, humidity and temperature into account.
At 15:00, September 9, 2006, CZ-2B launch vehicle successfully sent a seed breeding satellite into the preset orbit, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The satellite, a recoverable experimental platform developed by China Academy of Space Technology, has 215-kg payloads of crop seeds for 9 major categories, including grains, cotton, and vegetables. The seeds are to be tested for possible mutations in a space environment. The satellite is also equipped with a number of sounding equipment to explore radiation, microgravity, and electromagnetic field in the space environment. A comparative study would be made to understand seeds mutations in a space environment. The Ministry of Agriculture would organize research institutes to screen out capable seeds from the retrieved payloads for further growth, in an attempt to breed out high-yield and high-quality new varieties for further diffusions. Scientists will also create a mimic space environment to study biological effects, and explore the possible ways to breed out improved seeds using the mimic environment. The satellite also left some room for other scientific experiments.
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