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China Space Science Programs

  • The past 50 years’ developments in China’s space science have witnessed many major missions: Dongfanghong-1, sounding rockets, Shijian series scientific experiment satellites, manned spaceflight, Double Star Program, lunar exploration program, etc. Substantial progress has been achieved in space science study, exploration technology as well as experiment technology.

    The main goal of the Strategic Priority Program on Space Science is dedicating to deepen our understanding of the universe and planet earth, seeking new discoveries and new breakthroughs in space science via the implementation of both independent and co-operational space science missions.

    The aims and principles of China's space activities are determined by their important status and function in protecting China's national interests and implementing the state's development strategy. The aims of China's space activities are: to explore outer space, and learn more about the cosmos and the Earth; to utilize outer space for peaceful purposes, promote mankind's civilization and social progress, and benefit the whole of mankind; and to meet the growing demands of economic construction, national security, science and technology development and social progress, protect China's national interests and build up the comprehensive national strength.

    Ancient China, one of the cradles of human civilization, has created a splendid culture. As early as 2000 BC, the great eclipse was recorded in Shang Shu,Yin Zheng, one of the ancient Chinese Classics. Two events of comet visiting which happened in 613 BC and 467 BC respectively were recorded in another Chinese Classic, Spring and Autumn, which are regarded as the two earliest observations in human history of the Halley comet’s return. The records of sunspot observations in 28 BC were documented in China, which is almost 1000 years earlier than the similar documentation in the West. Ancient Chinese also holds the record as the earliest observer of supernova in the world, which dates back to about 1300 BC, and what’s more, ancient Chinese has detailed records of aurora observation.

    In 1957, the launch of the first artificial satellite ushered in a new era for modern space science. China started to explore the upper atmosphere using rockets and balloons in the early 1960s. In the early 1970s, China began to utilize the scientific exploration and technological testing satellites of the "SJ" group in a series of space explorations and studies, and acquired a large amount of valuable data about the space environment. Research on space weather forecasting and related international cooperation have also been carried out in recent years. In the late 1980s, recoverable remote-sensing satellites were employed for various kinds of aerospace scientific experiments, and have yielded satisfactory achievements in crystal and protein growth, cell cultivation and crop breeding. Innovative achievements have been scored in the study of basic theory of space science.

    The establishment of advanced and open state-level laboratories specializing in space physics, micro-gravity and space life science, and the founding of the Space Payload Application Center provide the country with the basic ability to support aerospace scientific experiments. The "SJ" group has been used in recent years to detect charged particles in terrestrial space and their effects. In addition, the first micro-gravity space experiment on double-layer fluid was accomplished, in which remote operation of space experiments was realized. China has developed and launched several Shijian (Practice) satellites and small and micro satellites, providing supporting platforms for space environment exploration, space scientific test and new technology demonstration.

    China has implemented the Double Star Program to explore the Earth's magnetosphere in concert with the Cluster Program of the European Space Agency (ESA), obtaining much new data and making important progress in space physics. Through lunar exploration projects, China has studied the morphology, structure, surface matter composition, microwave properties, and near-moon space environment, further enhancing its knowledge of the moon.

    Using the Shijian satellites and Shenzhou spaceship, China has carried out space experiments in life science, materials science, fluid mechanics and other fields under conditions of microgravity and strong radiation. It has also conducted experiments on crop breeding in space. Using Shenzhou and other spacecraft, China has explored the space environment's major parameters and effects, worked on space environmental monitoring and forecasting, and studied space environmental effects.

    During the Twelfth Five-Year Plan period, the Strategic Priority Program on Space Science implements the following missions and studies: Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope, Quantum Experiments at Space Scale, Dark Matter Particle Explorer, Shijian-10, Kuafu Mission, Intensive Study of Future Space Science Missions and Advanced Research of Space Science Missions and Payloads.

    During the period 2011-2016, China planned to develop and launch a Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope satellite, Shijian-9 new technology test satellite, and returnable satellites. It will begin to implement projects of quantum science test satellite and dark matter probing satellite.

    China carries out deep-space exploration in stages, with limited goals. Based on the idea of "three steps" orbiting, landing and returning for continuing lunar probe projects, China will launch orbiters for lunar soft landing, roving and surveying to implement the second stage of lunar exploration. In the third stage, China will start to conduct sampling the moon's surface matters and get those samples back to Earth. China will conduct special project demonstration in deep-space exploration, and push forward its exploration of planets, asteroids and the sun of the solar system.

    China will strengthen the development of its space science research system, upgrade the quality of space science research, and enhance popularization of space science knowledge in the whole nation. By the implementation of lunar exploration projects, China will make in-situ analyses, morphological and structural surveys of the lunar surface in landing and roving areas, conduct environmental surveys of the lunar surface and make moon-based astronomical observations.

    By using spacecraft, China will study the properties of black holes and physical laws under extreme conditions, explore properties of dark matter particles, and test basic theories of quantum mechanics. It will also conduct scientific experiments on microgravity and space life science, explore and forecast the space environment and study their effects.

    China declared its dark matter, x-ray observatory, microgravity and quantum space science missions successful, and is turning attention to a new batch of cutting edge projects. The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) on 14 November 2017 declared that the four missions making up its pioneering Strategic Priority Program on Space Science have been successful in terms of science, management and execution. The missions, launched between December 2015 and June 2017, are the 'Wukong' (or DAMPE) dark matter probe, the Shijian-10 retrievable satellite, the Quantum Science Satellite 'Mozi', and the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT), also known as 'Insight'. The first scientific results for Wukong and its hunt for clues on dark matter were expected to published soon, while the success of the Mozi quantum satellite has brought profound communications and national security implications.

    The next phase of missions were already under development and would be launched around 2021, as part of a wider, long-term vision for space science. These are SMILE, a space-weather observatory mission being developed in collaboration with the European Space Agency, a global water cycle observation mission (WCOM), the Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Thermosphere coupling exploration mission (MIT), the Einstein Probe (EP), and the Advanced Space-based Solar Observatory (ASO-S).

    Operating in the new field of transient astronomy, the Einstein Probe will survey large portions of the universe for exotic space phenomena using very sensitive wide-filed X-ray camera and telescope. EP will also aim to locate the electromagnetic wave counterparts of gravitational wave events, and survey the skies for phenomena including supernovae, neutron stars and transient activity in galactic centers.

    WCOM will further understanding of the global water cycle and its variations, while SMILE will investigate how charged particles coming from the sun interact with the Earth’s magnetosphere. MIT will involve sending four spacecraft to various altitudes to simultaneously investigate the magneto-, iono-, and themospheres at the Earth’s polar regions. ASO-S will study the connections between the solar magnetic field, solar flares and coronal mass ejections. The missions were expected to enter the engineering development phase in 2017.

    With the next missions being in technically advanced stages, the process for deciding future missions for the next 10-15 years had already begun. China's National Space Science Centre (NSSC) received 136 proposals early this year after issuing a call in December 2016. 80 were selected after evaluation by 30 academicians, which was followed by review by a panel of 15 experts headed by noted cosmochemist Ouyang Ziyuan. Many of these proposals cover a very broad range, including astronomy, gravitational waves, solar wind, exoplanet hunting, space physics and more.

    Over the past few years, China has sent a series of space science satellites into space, including the DAMPE to search for dark matter, the world's first quantum satellite and the HXMT, China's first X-ray space telescope. In the coming three to four years, through 2022, China plans to launch new space science satellites including the Gravitational Wave Electromagnetic Counterpart All-sky Monitor (GECAM), the Advanced Space-borne Solar Observatory (ASO-S), the Einstein-Probe (EP) and the Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer (SMILE) to study gravitational waves, black holes, the relationship between the solar system and humanity and the origin and evolution of the universe.

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    Page last modified: 28-09-2019 18:55:07 ZULU