Tag Archives: China

Chinese astronauts to return to Earth this week

The competition heats up: After spending a month in orbit in their country’s second orbiting space station module, two Chinese astronauts are expected to return to Earth this week.

The article provides a lot of details about China’s upcoming space station plans. For example, this will likely be the last manned mission to the Tiangong-2 module. It will be used next year to test the docking of an unmanned freighter, but the next manned mission will be to the core unit of their full-sized space station, now set to launch in 2018 on a Long March 5 rocket, which successfully completed its first test launch two weeks ago.

China’s smallsat rocket scheduled for first launch in December

The competition heats up: Even as they prepare for the first launch of their largest rocket tomorrow, China today also announced that the first test launch of its low cost smallsat rocket, Kuaizhou-1, as now been scheduled for December.

Kuaizhou (speedy vessel) is a low-cost solid-fuelled carrier rocket with high reliability and short preparation period. It was designed to launch low-orbit satellites weighing under 300 kg. The rocket is launched via a mobile launch vehicle and will primarily launch satellites to monitor natural disasters and provide disaster-relief information.

Though this is obviously being touted as a competitor in the new smallsat launch industry, the military advantages of this kind of ballistic missile cannot be ignored. Essentially what China has here is an ICBM that can be launched from a moving vehicle, which means tracking it will be very difficult.

China’s new big rocket set for launch Thursday

The competition heats up: The first launch of China’s new big rocket, Long March 5, is now scheduled for Thursday morning at 10 universal time, 5:30 am Eastern.

The Long March 5 is comparable to the most powerful active rockets in the world such as the Delta-IV Heavy, Atlas V and Ariane 5, and will launch the technology experiment satellite Shijian-17 high into to geosynchronous. At more than 800 tonnes, 53 metres in height and with a 5 metre diameter core, the Long March 5 has been designed to launch the 20-tonne modules of China’s planned space station into low Earth orbit, starting with the core module in 2018.

The countdown and fueling have begun.

China company to launch suborbital tourists by 2020

The competition heats up: A Chinese company has announced that it is building a reusable suborbital spaceship to fly suborbital tourists by 2020.

Han Qingping, president of ChinaRocket Co Ltd in Beijing, said the company first will develop a 10-metric-ton reusable spacecraft and use it to ferry three to five travelers to a height of 80 km for a new perspective on the mother planet and experience weightlessness. That is the upper part of the mesosphere, higher than jets and balloons can travel, but just below the height where satellites fly.

No prices were given. “By 2025, a 100-ton reusable spacecraft will be produced to send up to 20 passengers to an orbit as high as 140 km above the ground,” he said. That’s into the thermosphere, and is high enough to be considered space. “Furthermore, we will begin to use the 100-ton vehicle to perform intercontinental scheduled flight and long commercial spaceflight around 2030.”

The proposal is audacious, especially its promised launch date of the suborbital craft in 2020 and an orbital craft in 2025. Nonetheless, the announcement illustrates the direction that rocketry appears to be heading, reusable vehicles capable of frequent reuse at less cost.

Chinese smallsat snaps pictures of Chinese space station

One third of the way through their month long mission, on Sunday the two Chinese astronauts aboard Tiangong-2 released a smallsat designed to maneuver around the station and take images of it.

The cubical craft deployed from Tiangong 2 on Sunday is about the size of a printer, and it took sharp black-and-white pictures of the space lab and the Shenzhou 11 crew transport craft docked together around 235 miles (380 kilometers) above Earth. Fitted with a 25-megapixel camera and an ammonia-based propulsion system, the Banxing 2 satellite is expected to loiter around Tiangong 2 and Shenzhou 11, and eventually return to the vicinity of the complex to take pictures from above with Earth in the background, according to Chinese state media reports.

The first batch of photos from Banxing 2’s departure are looking up at the mini-space station complex, with the blackness of space as a backdrop. In addition to the imagery taken by the micro-satellite’s visible camera, Banxing 2 captured more than 300 infrared pictures during the flyaway sequence.

This is a neat idea, one that neither Russia nor the U.S. ever did on their stations. Moreover, to provide this smallsat a propulsion system is significant, since satellites this small have traditionally not had one. Testing that system is certainly one of the smallsats main purposes.

The image at the link of the station and capsule docked together reveals how relatively small Tiangong-2 really is, compared to the Shenzhou manned spacecraft as well as other Russian single module stations. Shenzhou is about as long as Tiangong, and though the Chinese have made their manned capsule bigger than the Soyuz spacecraft they based it on, it isn’t that much bigger. In fact, the article says that the combined station and spacecraft is about 60 feet long. Russia’s Salyut stations, which were also a single module like Tiangong-2, were about that long, before the Soyuz was added.

In other words, Tiangong-2, as was Tiangong-1, are exactly what the Chinese have said they are, prototype testbeds for testing the engineering needed for building a much bigger multi-module station in 2020. What is unclear is whether the modules of that bigger station will be bigger as well.

China considers moves against North Korea

It took them long enough. Faced with news that North Korea is preparing for a sixth nuclear test, China policy makers are now considering various options for removing North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

According to the Korea Times, Professor Zhe Sun told a security forum in Washington that the Chinese were debating how best to deal with the North Korean leader. ‘Some Chinese scholars and policy makers began to talk about supporting “surgical strikes” and “decapitation” by the U.S. and South Korea as one policy option,’ he said.
Satellite images of North Korea’s nuclear test site shows activity at all three of its tunnel complexes, fuelling speculation of another test ahead of a key political anniversary next week
Professor Zhe Sun told a security forum in Washington that the Chinese were debating how best to deal with the North Korean leader ‘More radical proposals indicate that China should change the leader, send troops across borders and station in DPRK, force DPRK into giving up nuclear and beginning opening up and reforming.’

North Korea has never been able to do anything without the support of China. That China has allowed them to get this far in their nuclear weapon and missile development has been an enormous mistake. That they might now be finally realizing this means that we could see some drama there very shortly.

China to launch next space station September 15

Despite the launch failure this week of a different rocket, China is moving forward with the launch of its second space station test module, Tiangong-2, now set for September 15.

Original built as a back up to Tiangong-1, TG-2 is expected to be identical in size to the previous Chinese station launched in 2011. Having an increased payload capacity, the new station will use its improved living conditions to verify key technologies, such as on-orbit propellant resupply using the new Tianzhou logistics vehicle. TG-2 will also be used to conduct space science experiments on a relatively large scale compared to China’s previous efforts. Tiangong-2 will also be equipped with a new robotic arm and will be accompanied by the small Banxing-2 satellite for technology demonstrations. It will also capture images of the new station in orbit.

Once in orbit China will then follow quickly with a 30 day manned mission.

Did China today have a launch failure?

A scheduled Chinese launch today has apparently ended in failure, though exactly what happened remains presently unknown.

China was early this morning expected to launch its Gaofen-10 Earth observation satellite from Taiyuan, following the issuance of an airspace exclusion zone days in advance. However, it seems the launch did not go to plan. Gaofen-10, nominally part of the ‘CHEOS’ Earth observation system for civilian purposes, was due to be launched on a Long March 4C rocket between 18:46 and 19:11 UTC on Wednesday (02:46-03:11 Thursday Beijing time). China usually releases information of launches once payloads are successfully heading towards their target orbits around an hour after launch. Much earlier, spectators and insiders often share details and photos of the launch on social media.

However, many hours after the launch window passed there was still silence, with the launch timing and location of the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre apparently limiting opportunities for outside viewers.

The launch however was not scrubbed, as first stage launch debris was found as expected along the flight path, suggesting that some failure occurred with the upper stage.

Like today’s Falcon 9 failure, this Chinese failure could have a rippling effect on their ambitious plans this fall, including the launch of their next space station followed by a 30-day manned mission.

Chinese company agrees to buy Israeli satellite company

Wheels within wheels: A Chinese company, managed by a Luxembourg company that in turn delegates management of its satellites to an Israeli-based company, has made a deal to purchase Spacecom, a different Israeli company that operates and owns the Amos fleet of communications satellites.

Observers said the deal could meet up with opposition from regulators, including the Communications Ministry. But Pollack said the transaction would be done in accordance with Spacecom’s license terms, which require the satellites be operated from Israel and that the company remain Israeli. The sale would put Spacecom under the direct control of an Israeli-domiciled company called Big Bird, which is managed by Major General (Res.) Ami Shafran, a former head of the Israel Defense Forces communications branch. Big Bird is 100%-owned by a Luxembourg company, which in turn is owned by Beijing Xinwei.

To say this financial deal is complicated is to understate the situation. Though it appears most everyone here is probably focused on making money, if I was Israeli I would be somewhat concerned that ownership of these crucial communications satellites is now going to be outside the country.

I also note the presence of Luxembourg in this space deal, illustrating again that this small European country is very much a big player in the commercial space industry.

China unveils its 2020 Mars lander/rover

The competition heats up: China today released design concepts of its planned 2020 Mars lander and rover.

According to Ye Peijian, one of China’s leading aerospace experts and a consultant to the program, the 2020 mission will be launched on a Long March-5 carrier rocket from the Wenchang space launch center in south China’s Hainan province. The lander will separate from the orbiter at the end of a journey of around seven months and touch down in a low latitude area in the northern hemisphere of Mars where the rover will explore the surface.

If they succeed they will have definitely moved ahead of Russia in the ranks of space-faring nations.

The world’s longest and highest glass-bottomed bridge

Link here. Lots of great pictures of this new pedestrian bridge in China, including one of a reporter trying (and failing) to use a sledge hammer to break the glass.

China’s economy might have a lot of holes and might face collapse, as many experts have been telling me for years, but at the same time they seem to be successfully harnessing the success they’ve had in the past few decades to get very creative. That creativity suggests to me the collapse is not guaranteed, and will not be as severe as predicted.

After 31 months, Jade Rabbit ceases operation

China’s first lunar rover, Yutu (Jade Rabbit in English) has finally ceased operations after 31 months.

The rover stalled shortly after it moved away from its lander, Chang’e 3, but its instruments were still able to gather data, and they did so for about 10 times longer than originally planned.

China unveils world’s largest amphibious plane

China has built the world’s largest amphibious plane, designed initially for rescue and fire-fighting duties.

Made by the state’s aircraft maker, the AG600 is around the size of a Boeing 737 and will be used to douse forest fires and rescue people in danger offshore. Measuring 37 m (121 ft) long with a wingspan of 38.8 m (127 ft), the gargantuan amphibious aircraft is capable of taking off and landing both on terra firma and stretches of water, provided they are more than 1,500 m long, 200 m wide and 2.5 m deep (0.93 mi, 656 ft and 8.2 ft). It has a maximum take-off weight of 53.5 tonnes (59 tons), a top cruising speed of 500 km/h (310.7 mph) and a range of 4,500 km (2,800 mi), and can fly for 12 hours at a time, according to its builder, the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).

Much like the Russians, the Chinese aerospace industry is controlled and supervised by the government. Unlike the Russians, however, the Chinese for the moment seem much more capable under this top-down system to develop new designs. They say for example that this new amphibious plane already has 17 domestic orders.

I must admit to a bit of skepticism however. Was this plane built because there was a demand, or because the powers-that-be decided they wanted it built? I am not sure. The video at the link suggests to me the latter, with its hard core sales pitch similar to a lot of other government projects I have seen, where the project is built because some politician or bureaucrat conceived and pushed it, but it doesn’t really have a viable purpose.

Japanese military satellite damaged during shipping

Japan’s troubled space effort suffered a bad setback when a Japanese military communications satellite was damaged in shipment to its launch site in French Guiana.

The launch of Japan’s first dedicated military communications satellite will be delayed by two years after a mishap with a blue tarpaulin damaged sensitive antennas during transportation to Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, two government sources told Reuters. The mishap has set back plans by Japan’s military to unify its fractured and overburdened communications network, and could hinder efforts to reinforce defenses in the East China Sea as Chinese military activity in the region escalates.

China’s space plans for the rest of 2016

The competition heats up: If all goes as planned, 2016 could be China’s busiest year ever in space, and could set the stage for making it a major player for years to come.

They will not only launch their next space station test module, they will introduce a new rocket capable of putting about 25 tons into orbit, making it one of the most powerful rockets available. In addition, they are moving forward aggressively on planetary missions to Mars and the Moon, and on the followup larger space station designed to teach them how to transport people between the planets.

While the US is still substantively far ahead in space, the optics can suggest otherwise.

First, China will be launching people into space, which the US have not had the capability to do since the shuttles were retired in 2011, relying on Russia to get its astronauts to the ISS. Next, the International Space Station is currently only funded to 2024, which means the [Chinese space station], expected to be completed around 2022, could be the only game in orbit. Another issue is that it is becoming increasingly apparent that China is developing technologies and techniques necessary to take its taikonauts to the Moon, and ESA and Russia also have that destination in mind.

As the article notes, the private sector is the U.S.’s trump card (no pun intended).

China launches first Long March 7 rocket, recovers test capsule

The competition heats up: China successfully launched its first Long March 7 rocket on Saturday, the first launch also from its new Wencheng Spaceport.

According to this official Chinese report, the test capsule on the rocket also landed successfully and has been recovered.

Previously I had mistakenly reported that this launch would put into orbit China’s next test space station module. That launch is not until the fall.

China announces four day launch window for Long March 7’s first launch

The competition heats up: China has announced that the first launch of its new medium-sized rocket, Long March 7, will take place between June 25 and June 29.

The rocket will carry the country’s second space station test module, and will inaugerate use of China’s new Wenchang spaceport.

Russia’s continuing weakness in space

In the heat of competition: Russia this week announced new space agreements with both China and Europe.

The first describes a deal whereby Europe will pay Russia to use its Bion capsules to launch life science experiments. In addition, the article notes that Europe will continue its agreement with Russia to launch commercial Soyuz rockets from its Arianespace launchpad in French Guiana.

The second and third stories describe a variety of negotiations between Russia and China, whereby the two countries will work together in a number of ways, including the possibiliity that China will buy the same Russian rocket engine that ULA uses in its Atlas 5 rocket as well as maybe jointly build a heavy lift rocket with Russia. In the second article, Russia’s deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, in touting the excellence of the Russian rocket engine, could not help taunting the United States.
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Next China lunar lander aimed for farside south pole

The competition heats up: China announced plans today to send its next lunar lander, Chang’e 4, to the Moon’s farside south pole in 2018.

The lander of Chang’e-4 will be equipped with descent and terrain cameras, and the rover will be equipped with a panoramic camera, he said. Like China’s first lunar rover Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, carried by Chang’e-3, the rover of Chang’e-4 will carry subsurface penetrating radar to detect the near surface structure of the moon, and an infrared spectrometer to analyze the chemical composition of lunar samples.

But unlike Chang’e-3, the new lander will be equipped with an important scientific payload especially designed for the far side of the moon: a low-frequency radio spectrometer. “Since the far side of the moon is shielded from electromagnetic interference from the Earth, it’s an ideal place to research the space environment and solar bursts, and the probe can ‘listen’ to the deeper reaches of the cosmos,” Liu said.

The U.S. had been in the lead in the land rush to gain dominance in the possibly water-rich lunar south pole. We apparently have lost this lead with decision of President Obama and Congress to focus elsewhere, either the asteroids or Mars.

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