Tag Archives: China

China completes 2nd launch in 2020

China today successfully launched a earth resource satellite plus two smallsats using its Long March 2D rocket.

Right now in 2020 only SpaceX and China have completed launches, with China leading 2-1. SpaceX however plans on launching another 60 Starlink smallsats on January 20th, which will tie them again.

I expect both to be neck and neck for the rest of the year.

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China releases data and images from Yutu-2 and Chang’e-3

Yutu-2 on the far side of the Moon
Click for full image.

The new colonial movement: To celebrate the completion of a year on the lunar surface, China has released the bulk of the data and images produced by the lander Chang’e-3 and the rover Yutu-2.

The link includes a nice gallery of images. I especially like the image to the right, cropped to post here. It shows Yutu-2 moving away from Chang’e-3 early in the mission. It also shows how truly colorless the Moon is. The rover proves this is a color image, but if it wasn’t in the shot you’d have no way of knowing.

And then there is that pitch black sky. I wonder what’s behind it.

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China completes first launch of 2020

The race is on! China today successfully launched a military satellite using its Long March 3B rocket, China’s second most powerful rocket behind the Long March 5.

Right now SpaceX and China are tied with one launch in the 2020 launch race. Based on the 2020 launch estimates from both, I expect that we will see a neck-and-neck race for the most launches from each for the rest of the year.

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China now predicts more than 40 launches in 2020

The new colonial movement: China has increased its launch prediction for 2020 from 30 to more than 40 launches.

The key planned achievements:

The highlights of the space activities include the launch of China’s first Mars probe, the Chang’e-5 lunar probe, which is expected to bring moon samples back to Earth, the final step of China’s current lunar exploration program, as well as the completion of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System constellation.

Three new types of carrier rockets including the Long March-5B, Long March-7A and Long March-8 will make their maiden flights in 2020.

It sure looks like 2020 is shaping up to possibly be the most spectacular year for space since Sputnik.

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Yutu-2 completes 13th lunar day

China’s Yutu-2 lunar rover and its lander Chang’e-4 have completed their thirteenth lunar day on the far side of the Moon and have been placed in sleep mode.

During the twelve lunar day the rover traveled about 12 meters, or about 40 feet.

The rover has found materials from deep inside the moon that could help unravel the mystery of the lunar mantle’s composition and the formation and evolution of the moon and the earth. Using data obtained by the visible and near-infrared spectrometer installed on Yutu-2, Chinese scientists found that the lunar soil in the landing area of the Chang’e-4 probe contains olivine and pyroxene which came from the lunar mantle deep inside the moon.

Due to the complicated geological environment and the rugged and heavily cratered terrain on the far side of the moon, the rover drives slowly but steadily and is expected to continue traveling on the moon and make more scientific discoveries.

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The state of the global rocket industry in 2019

With 2019 ending, it is time once again (as I did for 2016, 2017, and 2018) to review the trends in the global launch industry for the past year.

Below is my updated graph, showing the launch numbers for 2019 as well as for every year going back to 1990, just before the fall of the Soviet Union. That range I think covers all recent trends, while also giving some perspective on what happened in 2019.

The graph is worth reviewing at length, as it not only gives a sense of recent trends, it also summarizes well the history of the entire global space industry during the past thirty years. For example, it shows the transition in the U.S. in the past two decades from government-owned launchers to private rockets, a change that has revitalized the American space industry in more ways than be counted.
» Read more

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China has a shortfall of jet engines

Apropos of the engine problems on the Long March 5, it is reported today that China has a serious manufacturing shortage of the jet engines it needs for its new stealth fighters and bombers.

Aviation website Alert 5 spotted a stock-exchange filing by the Hebei subsidiary of China’s Central Iron & Steel Research Institute. The filing including production projections for military engines for the next decade, and reveals some startling shortfalls. Production and development gaps could result in the latest Chinese warplanes flying with older engine models, including imported Russian motors that might be underpowered and unreliable. The mismatch between airframes and engines could be a drag on the overall performance of Chinese military aircraft.

Perhaps the biggest shortfall is in the production of WS-15s and WS-19s, the custom motors respectively for J-20 stealth fighters and FC-31 export stealth fighters. “Data provided by Hebei Cisri Dekai Technology Co. Ltd. shows a maximum of only five WS-15 and WS-19 engines each year from 2020 ‘til 2026,” Alert 5 reported.

Apparently China will be flying these jets and bombers using inadequate Russian engines for the next five to eight years, as the country’s own industry seems unable to make them.

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Long March 4B launches a China/Brazil Landsat-type satellite

China’s Long March 4B rocket this morning successfully launched a China/Brazil Landsat-type satellite into a sun-synchronous orbit.

The rocket also placed an additional 8 cubesats into orbit as well.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

31 China
20 Russia
13 SpaceX
8 Arianespace (Europe)

China now leads the U.S. 31 to 27 in the national rankings.

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Yutu-2 sets new longevity record for lunar rover

China’s Yutu-2 lunar rover has now set a new longevity record for any rover on the Moon, beating the 10.5 month record set by the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 1 rover in 1970-1971.

Lunokhod 1 traveled about 6.5 miles, or about 34,000 feet, during its operation. Chinese engineers have been more cautious, moving Yutu-2 only about 1,132 feet in the same time period.

The Chinese rover is still operating, though relatively little data has been released from it. At the moment it has been placed in its hibernation mode as it makes it through its twelfth lunar night.

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China launches two more Beidou GPS-type satellites

The new colonial movement: China today used its Long March 3B rocket to launch two more Beidou GPS-type satellites.

With this launch China has successfully matched its predicted number of launches for 2019, a number that it should exceed with several more launches scheduled before the end of the year.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

30 China
20 Russia
12 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)

China now leads the U.S. in the national rankings 30 to 25. These numbers should change later today, as SpaceX has a commercial launch scheduled.

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New info on Long March 5 launch failures

An article in the English Chinese press today about the upcoming third launch of China’s Long March 5 rocket revealed some new information about the failures of that rocket during its first two test flights.

On its maiden mission in November 2016, the rocket failed to reach the speed required for the early phase of the flight; still, extra booster fuel burned in the final stage lifted its satellite cargo into orbit and allowed China to declare the trip a success.

In the second flight a few months later, though, the main engine died minutes after take-off, and the rocket plunged into the sea.

I have tried to read every iota of information released about the first two launches of the Long March 5 in order to figure out what went wrong during its second launch. At no time however had I ever come across any report that described any launch problems during its first flight. The Chinese always touted that first flight as a complete success, with no problems.

We now learn that the first stage during that first launch was under-powered, a problem that was not dealt with before the second launch, resulting in the complete failure of that second launch.

This is the typical behavior one sees in a government-run top-down program. Rather than bluntly address problems to fix them, even if it means someone will be embarrassed, management acts to protect itself, hiding problems so as to avoid blame. The result is always more failures.

As long as China’s economy is booming and providing its government with lots of cash for its space program, such problems can be papered over and even overcome. The second however that economy begins to falter, the program will stumble, the hidden problems acting like an avalanche to overwhelm everything.

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Scientists reject discovery of biggest known black hole

The uncertainty of science: In three new papers published this week astronomers have found that the announced discovery in early December of the biggest super-massive black hole ever found, 70 times the mass of the Sun, does not hold up.

In a recent study (a peer-reviewed study published Nov. 27), a team of scientists reported the discovery of the binary system LB-1, which contains a star and, according to the findings, a black hole companion 70 times the mass of our sun. This was major news, a stellar-mass black holes (black holes formed by the gravitational collapse of a star) are typically less than half that massive. But while the study, led by Jifeng Liu, of the National Astronomical Observatory of China (NAOC) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was exciting, it was also wrong.

Three new papers came out this week that reexamined the findings from Liu’s study, and these studies say that LB-1’s black hole isn’t actually all that massive.

The new papers find that a closer look at the data finds that it wasn’t doing what the initial researchers thought.

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Two Chinese Kuaizhou-1A launches within six hours

The new colonial movement: China today successfully completed two separate Kuaizhou-1A launches, placing in orbit seven total smallsats and doing it within a space of only six hours.

China launched two orbital missions from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center within six hours of each other, orbiting a total of seven satellites. The launches, using mobile pads, saw two Kuaizhou-1A rockets heading into space on Saturday at 2:55 UTC and 8:52 UTC.

The first Kuaizhou-1A rocket, serial number Y2, orbited the Jilin-1 Gaofen-2B remote sensing satellite for the Jilin-1 constellation.

…Six hours after the first launch, and as was expected by the navigational warnings previously published, a second Kuaizhou-1A launch vehicle, serial number Y12, had already been displaced to the launch site, but from a different pad. Analysis of the images available from the second launch seems to indicate that launch took place from a location within the Launch Complex 16 usually used for the Long March-6 launches. Ignition came at 8:52UTC.

The three-stage launch vehicle orbited six satellites.

This achievement is a very big deal. China has demonstrated the ability to launch and then launch again quickly with this military-based mobile launch system. This not only enhances their commercial value, it tells us they have developed a military capability able to put payloads into orbit at almost a moment’s notice.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

29 China
19 Russia
12 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)
6 Rocket Lab

China now leads the U.S. 29 to 25 in the national rankings.

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China to launch 30 times in 2020

The new colonial movement: According to Chinese officials, China plans to launch 30 times in 2020, maintaining the same pace that they met in 2019.

Zhuang Jingguo, chief engineer of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the country’s man space contractor, told media at the Fifth China International Commercial Aerospace Forum late last month that the state-owned enterprise will launch around 30 rockets next year.

This number is expected to include missions to Mars, the moon, test flights of new launch vehicles, and the completion of the Beidou navigation system. Commercial launch companies will further add to Chinese launch activities.

The article also provides a good overall summary of China’s present space effort, which is extensive and growing.

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 complete 12th lunar day

Chinese engineers have put both Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 into dormant mode after completed their twelve lunar day on the far side of the Moon.

The article from the Chinese state-run press provides very little information, other than telling us that Yutu-2 traveled 345 meters, written in a way to imply that was the distance the rover traveled in this last lunar day. I think that is wrong, however. Based on the distances traversed during previous lunar days, and that the rover had traveled a total of 290 meters at the end of its tenth lunar day, I think this new number is the total distance traveled.

The article also does not say what the consequences will be for these two spacecraft now that the priority of their communications relay has shifted from communications to being a radio telescope.

It could be that the consequences will be minor, considering that both spacecraft are in sleep mode during the lunar nights and for high noon of the lunar day. During those periods the relay satellite could be devoted full time to radio astronomy and have no impact on the lander and rover.

Unfortunately China has not said.

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Long March-8 2nd stage engine passes engine test

The new colonial movement: The second stage engine for China’s new Long March-8 rocket has successfully passed its engine tests.

Developed by the CASC [China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, China’s equivalent to NASA], the Long March-8 rocket is a new type of rocket that uses module design and can be prepared in a short time, making it competitive for commercial launch.

The first stage of the Long March-8 rocket is similar to that of the Long March-7 rocket and the second stage rocket is similar to the third stage of the Long March-3A rocket. It has a payload capacity of 5 tonnes to sun-synchronous orbit and 2.8 tonnes to geostationary transfer orbit.

This payload capacity is about a fourth that of the Falcon 9, but because the weight and size of satellites is shrinking, that smaller capacity might actually be an advantage. There is less need for the larger rockets in the commercial unmanned satellite industry, so for China to build a new smaller rocket that can be launched for less, even though it is not reusable, gives them a route for competing with SpaceX’s reuseability.

They hope to launch 10 to 20 times per year, beginning next year.

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China launches Earth resource satellite

Using its Long March 4C rocket China yesterday successfully launched Gaofen-12, a remote sensing satellite designd to study Earth resources.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

27 China
18 Russia
11 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)

China now leads the U.S. 27 to 23 in the national rankings.

The launch schedule remains very busy, with a Rocket Lab launch set for early tomorrow and two launches to ISS (a Dragon and Progress) scheduled next week. In fact, seventeen launches are tentatively listed for launch in December, which would be once every other day. Several are unlikely, but regardless December will be a very busy month in the launch industry.

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China unfolds Dutch radio antennas on lunar relay satellite

Chinese engineers have unfolded and activated the Dutch radio antennas on Queqiao, their lunar relay satellite orbiting the Moon, an action that had been delayed because the lander Chang’e-4 and rover Yutu-2 had both exceeded their nominal mission on the surface.

The Chinese satellite was previously mainly seen as a communications satellite. However, the Chinese moon mission has by now achieved its primary goals. Consequently, the Chinese have redefined the satellite to be a radio observatory. As such, the Netherlands-China Low Frequency Explorer is the first Dutch-Chinese space observatory for radio astronomy.

Marc Klein Wolt, Managing Director of the Radboud Radio Lab and leader of the Dutch team, is happy: “Our contribution to the Chinese Chang’e 4 mission has now increased tremendously. We have the opportunity to perform our observations during the fourteen-day-long night behind the moon, which is much longer than was originally the idea. The moon night is ours, now.”

If Queqiao is now dedicated to being a radio antenna full time during the lunar night, I wonder if this means the Chinese are shutting down Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2. Up to now both spacecraft have only operated during the lunar night, which suggests that was the only time they could relay data. It is possible that data relay could take place at other times, and that the lander and rover can function autonomously, but I have my doubts.

Both Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 functioned for twelve lunar nights, four times longer than planned, so shifting gears on Queqiao to do radio astronomy is not unreasonable. Unfortunately, the lack of transparency from China leaves us in the dark about the fate of Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2.

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Sweeping victories for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong elections

Good news: In elections yesterday in Hong Kong, pro-democracy candidates won a landslide victory, capturing control of 17 of 18 local councils.

Some 2.94 million people voted in the election, compared with 1.4 million in 2015.

Pro-democracy candidates won close to 60% of the total vote on Sunday, but achieved a landslide in terms of seats because of the first-past-the-post system, local media report. Pro-democracy contenders were victorious in 347 of the 452 district council seats up for grabs; pro-Beijing candidates won 60 seats; while independents – many of them pro-democracy – got 45, according to the South China Morning Post.

In the last election four years ago, pro-Beijing councillors won 298 seats, but the distribution of these seats meant they took control of all 18 district councils.

The official response from the China-appointed leader of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), Carrie Lam, was somewhat conciliatory:

After the social unrest in the past five months, I firmly believe that the vast majority of the public would share my wish for the peaceful, safe and orderly situation to continue.

The HKSAR Government respects the election results. There are various analyses and interpretations in the community in relation to the results, and quite a few are of the view that the results reflect people’s dissatisfaction with the current situation and the deep-seated problems in society. The HKSAR Government will listen to the opinions of members of the public humbly and seriously reflect.

Without doubt these results make it difficult for China to use military force on Hong Kong. The elected leadership throughout all but one district will oppose and stymie such actions. To make it happen the Chinese will literally have to arrest everyone.

In a sense, Hong Kong is becoming the West Berlin of China. It is now a path for ordinary Chinese citizens dissatisfied with communist rule to see another option. For totalitarian regimes, this is never a good thing, as when compared to free societies they never do better.

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Home destroyed by Long March 3B 1st stage

It appears from a number of twitter-type sources coming from China that the spent first stage of the Long March 3B rocket that successfully launched two GPS-type satellites this weekend crashed onto a house, destroying it.

Video footage emerged on Chinese social media shortly after launch showing the apparent destruction of a rural building. Flames are seen within the building along with fumes from residual propellant rising from the booster wreckage.

…The first stage and four side boosters of the Long March 3B use a toxic hypergolic propellant combination of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide.

There have so far been no state media reports on the incident. The footage and social media comments suggest the owners returned home following standard evacuation ahead of launch.

According to other such reports, the home-owners will be compensated, but this is not confirmed.

Regardless, because of China’s effort to increase its launch rate, launches coming from its inland spaceports are either going to develop controlled landing for the expendable stages or will cease. The damage both to their own citizens as well as the bad press these crashes garner are aspects that the Chinese government will want to avoid, with the bad press likely its greater concern.

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 begin 12th lunar day

Chinese engineers have reactivated both their lunar lander, Chang’e-4, and its rover, Yutu-2, for their twelve lunar day on the far side of the Moon.

The lander woke up at 5:03 p.m. Thursday (Beijing Time), and the rover, Yutu-2 (Jade Rabbit-2), awoke at 0:51 a.m. the same day. Both are in normal working order, according to the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration.

No word on where Yutu-2 will be sent over then next two weeks.

Posting was light during the day today because Diane and I were on a hike that I needed to do for the upcoming planned second edition of my hiking guidebook, Circuit Hikes of Southern Arizona. My boss (me) allowed me to go, since this hike was not pure pleasure, but reconnaissance for one of my books.

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Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter locates crashed Chinese orbiter

Before and after images showing Longjiang-2 impact site

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has located the Chinese microsat lunar orbiter Longjiang-2, which was sent to impact the Moon in August 2019 after it completed its technology demonstration mission.

The image above shows the before and after of the location, with the satellite’s remains visible as indicated by the arrow.

Through a careful comparison of pre-existing NAC images, the LROC team was able to locate a new impact crater (16.6956°N, 159.5170°E, ±10 meters), a distance of only 328 meters from the estimated site! The crater is 4 meters by 5 meters in diameter, with the long axis oriented southwest to northeast. Based on proximity to estimated crash coordinates and the crater size, we are fairly confident that this new crater formed as a result of the Longjiang-2 impact.

The picture of the impact site might not be very impressive, but remember, this satellite only weighed about a hundred pounds. The engineering however is impressive, on all counts. First, the Chinese built a tiny cubesat that reached lunar orbit and operated there for more than a year, during which it even took a picture of the Earth. Second, the engineering team of LRO was able to find this tiny impact site for such small spacecraft in less than four months.

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Second Kuaizhou-1A launch in less than a week

The new colonial movement: China today successfully completed its second Kuaizhou-1A launch in four days, placing two communications satellites into orbit.

In just a little more than a four day period, from the very same pad, with the very same launch team and launch truck, China has launched yet another Kuaizhou-1A rocket carrying satellites into orbit.

…The Kuaizhou-1A is a 4 stage, mostly solid fuel powered launch vehicle developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASIC) and commercialized by the China Space Sanjiang Group Corporation (also known as Expace Corporation).

Promoted by CASIC as being high reliability, high precision and low cost, the launch vehicle can send a 200 kg payload into a 700 km altitude sun-synchronous orbit. The vehicle is possibly based on the road-mobile DF-21 missile, with two additional solid fuel upper stages and a re-startable liquid fuel upper stage. It was designed with the goal to provide an easy to operate quick-reaction launch vehicle, that can remain in storage for long periods and to provide launch missions on short notice.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

25 China
17 Russia
11 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

In the national rankings, China widened its lead over the U.S. to 25 to 23.

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China unveils Mars lander during landing simulation test

The new colonial movement: China today unveiled to the international press its first prototype Mars lander, showing it attempting a simulated controlled descent on a gigantic test stand.

The demonstration of hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities was conducted at a site outside Beijing simulating conditions on the Red Planet, where the pull of gravity is about one-third that of Earth.

China plans to launch a lander and rover to Mars next year to explore parts of the planet in detail.

This is the first time I have heard anything about China sending a lander/rover to Mars in 2020. Previously the reports had discussed only sending an orbiter.

I have embedded video of the test below the fold. It shows the prototype hanging by many wires from the test stand, then dropping quickly, with its engine firing, before stopping suddenly, followed by an engine burst. While impressive, it did not strike me that China is even close to sending this spacecraft to Mars. The test only proved the spacecraft’s ability to do some maneuvering during descent. It did not show that it could land.

That the project’s designer said that landing would take “about seven minutes” also suggests that they are copying the techniques used by JPL to land Curiosity. Considering that JPL’s computers have been repeatedly hacked, including some hacks identified as coming from China, it would not surprise me if China has simply stolen those techniques.

I still expect them to launch an orbiter to Mars in 2020. Whether they also send a lander and rover remains to be seen.
» Read more

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China completes two launches today

In a space of three hours today China successfully completed two launches. First, a Kuaizhou-1A rocket, intended for commercial launches, placed a civilian Earth resource satellite into orbit. Then, a Long March 6 rocket put five remote sensing satellites into orbit.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

24 China
17 Russia
11 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

With these two launches China has leap-frogged past the U.S. to take the lead in the national rankings, 24 to 23.

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China uses Long March 3B to launch GPS-type satellite

China yesterday successfully launched another Beidou GPS-type satellite, using its Long March 3B rocket.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

22 China
17 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 ULA
4 India

China has now tied the U.S. 22 each in the national rankings, surging in launches to come from behind in the last few weeks. This is not surprising, in that China tends to concentrate its launches in the fall.

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 complete 11th day on Moon

After successfully completing their eleventh lunar day on the far side of the Moon, Chinese engineers have put both Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 back into dormant mode for the long lunar night.

Yutu-2 traveled another 28 meters during this eleventh lunar day. It is now about 218 meters to the west of Chang’e-4.

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China launches remote sensing satellite

Using its Long March 4B rocket China today successfully launched a remote sensing Earth resources satellite.

They also once again tested grid fins on the first stage, comparable to the ones on SpaceX’s Falcon 9, for controlling the landing zone of that first stage.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

21 China
17 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 ULA
4 India

The U.S. now leads China 22 to 21 in the national rankings..

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China officially withdraws extradition bill that sparked Hong Kong protests

The Chinese government has now officially withdrawn the extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong citizens to be tried within China and that triggered the on-going Hong Kong protests.

We will have to see if this defuses the situation. The protesters have put forth other demands, such as calling for an investigation of the Hong Kong police, instigated by their sometimes violent behavior in response to the protests. More important, the protests have also demanded the return of real elections to Hong Kong, something the Chinese government eliminated in recent years.

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