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Chinese Sounding Rockets

Perhaps the first true rockets were accidents. In the first century A.D., the Chinese reportedly had a simple form of gunpowder made from saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal dust. To create explosions during religous festivals, they filled bamboo tubes with a mixture and tossed them into fires. Perhaps some of those tubes failed to explode and instead skittered out of the fires, propelled by the gases and sparks produced by the burning gunpowder.

The Chinese began experimenting with the gunpowder-filled tubes. At some point, they attached bamboo tubes to arrows and launched them with bows. Soon they discovered that these gunpowder tubes could launch themselves just by the power produced from the escaping gas. The true rocket was born.

The date reporting the first use of true rockets was in 1232. At this time, the Chinese and the Mongols were at war with each other. During the battle of Kai-Keng, the Chinese repelled the Mongol invaders by a barrage of "arrows of flying fire." These fire-arrows were a simple form of a solid-propellant rocket. A tube, capped at one end, contained gunpowder. The other end was left open and the tube was attached to a long stick. When the powder was ignited, the rapid burning of the powder produced fire, smoke, and gas that escaped out the open end and produced a thrust. The stick acted as a simple guidance system that kept the rocket headed in one general direction as it flew through the air.

It is not clear how effective these arrows of flying fire were as weapons of destruction, but their psychological effects on the Mongols must have been formidable. Following the battle of Kai-Keng, the Mongols produced rockets of their own and may have been responsible for the spread of rockets to Europe.

While most rocker development aimed at attaching bombs or other lethal apparatus to the rocket, a few scientists swam against the current and dreamed of sending instruments into the high regions of the atmosphere. In his classic 1919 paper, A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes, Robert H. Goddard suggested that rockets might well be used for upper atmosphere research.

The sounding rocket offers a vehicle that will carry instruments (a few kilograms to a few hundred kilograms worth) to almost any altitude between a few kilometers and a few thousand kilometers. Besides affording the opportunity of making measurements on the way up and back down through the atmosphere (a "vertical profile"), the sounding rocket can provide several minutes of observation time above the Earth's atmosphere, that layer of gas that insulates scientific instruments from much of the radiation, plasma, and micrometeoroid flux pervading outer space.

The primitive launch facility for the T-7M rocket was located on an open field 2 km east of Lao Gang Village in Nan Hui County, Shanghai. The power plant was a straw hut covered with a sheet of oil cloth; its 50-kw generator was borrowed from someone else. The power plant was only 100 m from the launch pad and the "Command Post," but they were separated by a small river. With no telephones, no walkie-talkies, no loud speakers, the commander had to issue commands by shouting or by using hand signals. With no pumping equipment, a bicycle pump was used as a pressure source for filling the propellant. With no automatically steered antennas, a manually-operated antenna was used to track the rocket.

On 19 February 1960, a T-7M rocket stood straight on a 20-m tall launcher. With a loud roar of the engine and a burst of white-hot flame, the rocket lifted upward along the guide rail, and headed straight toward the sky. This marked the first successful launch of China's liquid-propellant sounding rocket. Then, in September 1960, the first liquid-propellant weather rocket, the T-7 was also launched.

By the mid-1980s, a variety of different types and models of sounding rockets had been developed. They include the T-7, the T-7A (first generation), the Peace No 2 (second generation), the Peace No 6 and four different types of 761 (third generation) weather rockets which are under development, two biological test rockets, the T-7A(Si) and Ta-7A(S2), and three different types of space technology experimental rockets the T-7A(YS).

The Peace No 6 is a single-stage solid-propellant weather rocket; its maximum diameter is 0.1615 m. The composite model weighs approxiamtely 60.8 kg, and is capable of carrying 2.8 kg of instruments to an altitude of 60-80 km. The drop-ball model weighs approximately 58 kg, and is capable of carrying 2 kg of instruments to an altitude of 70-90 km. It is used to measure atmospheric temperature, pressure, density as well as wind speed and wind direction.

The T-7A(S2) biological test rocket has a maximum diameter of 0.6 m and a lift-off weight of 1,346 kg; the 170 kg payload can accommodate 1 dog, 4 white mice and 12 test tubes containing fungi, ray fungi, and myeetome. On 15 and 28 July 1966, two dogs named "Xia Bao" and "Shah Shan" were launched by the T-7A(S2) rocket to a high altitude and safely returned to ground. The T-7A(YS) high-altitude-ignition experimental rocket was successfully launched on 8 August 1968. It had a lift-off weight of 1,378 kg and can reach a maximum altitude of 311 km.

National Space Science Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Hainan Sounding Rocket Launching Site close to the equator, was established in 1986. In addition to launching sounding rockets, it deploys more than 10 ground-based space environment observational instruments.

Laboratory of Rocket and Balloon Sounding Technology (LRST), Center for Space Science and Applied Research (CSSAR), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), was established on 18 January 2006, based on the former research group of upper atmosphere exploration and assurance technology. LRST mainly focuses on the sounding technology research applied to sounding rocket, meteorological rocket, unmanned aerial vehicles and balloon. The research field covers integration technology, payload technology of upper atmosphere and ionosphere exploration and ground support technology. LRST also develops experiments onboard rocket, unmanned aerial vehicles and balloon and ground-based atmosphere experiments. It dedicates to promoting the development of sounding science and technology.

LRST aims at obtaining information about atmospheric composition, electric field, electron density, ion density and electron temperature in ionosphere under 200km and meteorological parameters (temperature, density, pressure, wind direction and wind velocity) under 70km, and tries to discover new physical mechanisms and disciplines.

As to the aspect of upper atmosphere exploration, LRST dedicates to the research per different requirements of temperature, air pressure, humidity, wind velocity, wind direction and atmosphere electric field at the altitude of 0~30km and 20~60km. Several upper atmosphere detecting equipments have been developed and successfully applied to space, aviation and meteorology exploration. They provided good meteorological assurance to the successful launch of Shenzhou spacecraft and many satellites. The air pressure sensors and humidity sensors developed independently with high precision are solely belonged to CSSAR. LRST has developed balloon-borne two-sphere electric field instrument, micro-rocket electric field instrument, inverted electric field instrument, electric field instrument and sonde onboard rocket.

On 07 May 2011, the first sounding rocket of the "Meridian Project" (short form for the Meridian Project of Integrated Space Environment Monitoring in the Eastern Hemisphere), which is part of the National Major S&T Infrastructure Program, was launched at the CAS Hainan Sounding Rocket Base (HSRB). The sounding-rocket of the Meridian Project is designed to obtain relevant space environment parameters on atmospheric micro-constituents, electric field with an altitude lower than 200km, and parameters on electron density, ion density and electron temperature in ionosphere. The successful test is believed to play a substantial role in the independent monitoring of the space environment and the guarantee for safe activities in the space.

China's first space science active experiment was conducted 05 April 2013 to study the dynamical processes of the Earth's ionosphere. The experiment conducted at a sounding rocket launch site in Zhanzhou, south China's Hainan Province, will provide in-situ measurements for studying the vertical distribution of space environment. The vertical exploration test was completed with the help of a sounding rocket, which released a kilogram of powdered barium into the ionosphere at a height of 200 kilometers from the ground. The rocket, manufactured by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, carried three kinds of detecting instruments in the eight-minute flight, including a Langmuir probe, an electric field probe, and a barium powder releaser.

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Page last modified: 11-05-2014 18:50:13 ZULU