China successfully lands rocket fairings softly

China’s state press today revealed that during the July 19th launch of its Long March 2C rocket it was able to successfully use parachutes and a control system in the rockets discarded fairings to guide them back to Earth more precisely and to land softly.

The technology tested in the fairing was a parachute-control electrical and parachute system to monitor the status of the reentry flight in real-time. With the new technology, when a fairing falls to a certain height and meets the conditions suitable for parachute deployment, the parachute opens to decelerate the fairing.

At a certain height of descent, a fairing will discard its drag chute, open its parafoil, and initiate deceleration a second time. During its slowdown, it will land in a safe area in a controlled manner.

CALVT [China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology] said the technology was able to reduce the fairing’s original projected landing area by more than 80 percent, which significantly improved safety and reduced evacuation pressure in the area.

Does this technology remind you of anything? To me, it appears that China has watched what SpaceX has done and attempted to copy it.

The news release did not say if the fairing was damaged in landing. I suspect that it was damaged, or they would have told us otherwise.

Combined with the previously attempts to use parachutes and grid fins (also very similar to SpaceX’s) to control the landing of abandoned Long March 2C and 3B first stages, China is clearly trying to make their launches from within their country less dangerous to their own citizens. Even if they have not yet succeeded in bringing this rocket debris back intact so it can be reused, they are still gaining control of its re-entry so that they can not only predict more precisely where it will land, they can pick the spot.

China launches four satellites

Using its Long March 2C rocket, China today successfully launched four satellites, three military reconnaissance satellites and one data communications satellite.

While the first stage crashed inside China (no word on whether it landed near habitable areas), China also claimed it attempted a recovery of the fairings for reuse. At this time no information has been released on what was achieved.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

23 China
20 SpaceX
11 Russia
3 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. still leads China 29 to 23 in the national rankings.

China test flies reusable suborbital spacecraft

The new colonial movement: China’s state-run press today announced that it had recently flown and landed a new reusable suborbital spacecraft. Here’s their full release:

A reusable suborbital carrier landed stably at an airport in Alxa League in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region during a flight demonstration and verification project on Friday.

Earlier on Friday, the carrier was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gobi Desert. Its first flight mission was a complete success.

Developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the reusable suborbital carrier can be used in the space transport system.

The success of the flight has laid a solid foundation for the development of China’s reusable space transportation. Enditem

The release provided no further information. It also provided no images.

This could very much be a real thing, but it also could be entirely fake. The timing of such a factual-devoid press release, coming as it does between two different American commercial suborbital flights, suggests the Chinese government does not want to appear left out, and is claiming, without producing any evidence, that it too has a reusable suborbital spacecraft.

If this release is fake, it also does not mean that China does not have such a spacecraft in development. In fact, it almost certainly does. Like the Soviet Union, China’s state-controlled press has a tendency to exaggerate their achievements for propaganda reasons. But like the Soviet Union, China is careful to base the exaggerations on actual achievements or plans, no matter how tentative.

Based on this, I suspect that what this release tells us is that China’s government is building such a thing, but might not have actually flown it yet. If they have as the press release claims, then expect some images in the next week or so.

New images from Zhurong on Mars

Zhurong's view north
Click for full image.

China today released three new images from its Zhurong Mars rover, showing that since their last release in late June the rover has traveled about 1,000 feet to the south to reach the parachute and backshell (or entry capsule), both released just before landing.

The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, is the color panorama from that release, looking north. According to a translation of the Chinese press release, provided at this Space.com report, the image shows:

“The complete back cover structure after aerodynamic ablation, the attitude control engine diversion hole on the back cover is clearly identifiable,”

Below is an annotated orbital picture of this location taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) in mid-June.
» Read more

China launches 5 military reconnaissance satellites

Using its Long March 6 rocket, China today successfully launched five military reconnaissance satellites.

This is China’s fourth successful launch in the past week.

Though this newer rocket’s first stage does not use toxic hypergolic fuels — China’s older rockets — that first stage still crashes in China after its job is done and it falls to Earth. No word on whether it landed near inhabited regions.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

22 China
20 SpaceX
11 Russia
3 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. still leads China 29 to 22 in the national rankings.

China targets 2024 for next lunar sample return mission

The new colonial movement: China’s next robotic lunar sample return mission, called Chang’e-6 and targeted for a 2024 launch, will also attempt to bring back the first samples from the far side of the Moon.

Hu Hao, chief engineer of the China Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center, announced in a statement released on China’s national space day in April this year that the Chang’e 6 probe, consisting of an orbiter, lander, lunar ascent vehicle and reentry capsule, will target the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin.The SPA basin is a colossal, ancient impact crater roughly 1,550 miles (2,500 kilometers) in diameter that covers almost a quarter of the moon’s far side. The impact basin, considered to be the oldest on the moon, holds vital clues about the history of the moon and the solar system, according to a new report.

The precise spot for landing has not been revealed. Since the basin is so large and covers the Moon’s south pole, the mission could land in that region where ice is thought to possibly exist in the permanently shadowed floors of some craters. Whether they would attempt a landing in one of those craters is presently unknown, though unlikely because of the technical challenge.

China launches communications satellite for space effort

Using a Long March 3C rocket China today successfully launched a communications satellite for use by its manned space missions and its space station, similar to the TDRS satellites used by NASA for similar purposes.

This satellite is the fifth such satellite launched, and is likely intended to enhance communications between the ground and China’s new space station.

No word on where the first stage crashed, or whether it landed near habitable areas.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

21 China
20 SpaceX
11 Russia
3 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. still leads China 29 to 21 in the national rankings.

China launches five military surveillance satellites

China today launched five military surveillance satellites using its Long March 2D rocket.

The rocket’s first stage crashed into “the extreme eastern Shaanxi Province, ” according to the article. No word on whether it landed near habitable areas.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

20 SpaceX
19 China
11 Russia
3 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. leads China 29 to 19 in the national rankings.

Today’s blacklisted American: YouTube blacklists group exposing Chinese genocide in its Xinjiang region

The Bill of Rights cancelled on YouTube
No free speech allowed on YouTube.

Today’s blacklisting victim is not really an American, but since it is an American company doing the blacklisting I think the story is applicable. It appears Google-owned YouTube has decided to remove videos on the Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights’ channel that expose the genocide and ethnic cleansing that China is doing to as many as a million people in its Xinjiang region.

Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights’ channel has published nearly 11,000 videos on YouTube totaling over 120 million views since 2017, thousands of which feature people speaking to camera about relatives they say have disappeared without a trace in China’s Xinjiang region, where UN experts and rights groups estimate over a million people have been detained in recent years.

On June 15, the channel was blocked for violating YouTube’s guidelines, according to a screenshot seen by Reuters, after twelve of its videos had been reported for breaching its ‘cyberbullying and harassment’ policy.

The channel’s administrators had appealed the blocking of all twelve videos between April and June, with some reinstated – but YouTube did not provide an explanation as to why others were kept out of public view, the administrators told Reuters.

Following inquiries from Reuters as to why the channel was removed, YouTube restored it, explaining that it had received multiple so-called ‘strikes’ for videos which contained people holding up ID cards to prove they were related to the missing, violating a YouTube policy which prohibits personally identifiable information from appearing in its content. They reinstated the channel on June 18 but asked Atajurt to blur the IDs.

» Read more

China releases more images & videos from Zhurong

Zhurong panorama looking north, June 27, 2021
Click for full image.

Overview map
Click for full image.

China today released a new panorama as well as several videos taken by its Mars rover Zhurong.

The videos show the rover’s landing as well as two short videos taken from the remote camera it had dropped off shortly after deployment from its lander, the first showing the rover moving away and the second showing it turning in place.. China also released sound recorded during that deployment, as the rover rolled down the ramps. The sound was of course enhanced, but it does allow scientists to learn something about the atmosphere of Mars.

The image above is a cropped section from the panorama. The map to the right, taken on June 11th by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), has been annotated by me to show the area I think is seen by this section of that panorama, looking due north. (For a higher resolution version that clearly shows the rover’s tracks since leaving the lander, go here.)

Chinese official outlines that country’s Mars exploration plan

The new colonial movement: According to an official from China’s prime rocket manufacturer, China is now beginning to plan for the manned exploration of Mars.

Wang Xiaojun, head of the state-owned China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), outlined the plans in his speech themed “The Space Transportation System of Human Mars Exploration” at the Global Space Exploration Conference (GLEX 2021) via a virtual link, the academy told the Global Times on Wednesday.

After reviewing the successful mission of the Tianwen-1 probe mission, the country’s first interplanetary exploration that achieved a successful orbiting, landing and roving the Red Planet all in one go, Wang introduced the three-step plan for future Mars expedition.

At the primary stage, or the technology preparation phase, androids will be launched whose mission include a Mars sample return mission and the exploration of a Mars base site. Next will be a manned Mars mission, and the building of a Mars base will be carried out. The third stage will be attempting shuttling large scale Earth-Mars cargo fleet and large scale development of the Red Planet.

The timetable for such mission launches will be 2033, 2035, 2037, 2041 and 2043, among others, the academy said.

While this is very far in the future, you can’t make it happen if you don’t get started early. China’s government is clearly looking at getting started, and appears to be following the same timetable approach it did for its space station. They began planning it about a decade ago, and are now launching and assembling it.

China’s decision to aim for Mars proves that the competition to get there is heating up considerably, and is likely their response to Elon Musk’s determined effort to make it possible.

A detailed look at Russia’s suffering and shrinking space program

Link here. The article starts off outlining Russia’s deepening inability to produce the computer chips it needs for its space effort, acerbated by sanctions imposed against that country because of its invasion of the Ukraine. It then goes on to describe the program’s overall financial problems, including its shrinking commercial market share resulting in a significant drop in income.

The article’s conclusion is stark:

If Moscow is unable to reach a new space deal with Washington, it will need to reconsider its space policy. But Russia has little wiggle room to increase federal spending on space activities to boost the industry. For instance, the government’s space program for 2016–2025 received $11.1 billion in 2016–2020 and will obtain another $10.2 billion in 2021–2025. The federal program for launch sites (2017–2025) secured $1.4 billion in 2017–2020 and will take in a further $2.83 billion in 2021–2025 (Economy.gov.ru, 2016–2021). The 2012–2020 GLONASS program received almost $5.1 billion, and $6.45 billion more is planned for the GLONASS program in 2021–2030 (RBC, December 21, 2020). Thus, without an international cooperation deal, and as long as Western sanctions are maintained, prospects for Russia’s space industry look bleak.

Russia has recently been working to establish a partnership with China and its effort to build a space station and a lunar base. That partnership however is not likely to provide Russia with any cash, which means the deal is an empty one. While China will continue to proceed to the Moon, I doubt Russia will follow with much.

It has also been trying to rework its American partnership, with Rogozin acting alternatively as a good guy/bad guy in public declarations. Since Russia opposes the Artemis Accords, and the Biden administration is continuing the Trump administration’s demand that all partners in the Artemis program agree to these accords, those negotiations are not likely to get Russia much. Moreover, NASA policy today is to feed money to American private companies so that they can grow, not feed money to Russia so that it can prosper.

Until Russia starts allowing free competition and private enterprise, outside the control of Roscosmos and the government, do not expect much of this Russian bad news to change. While China might strictly supervise the goals of its private space companies, it still encourages them to compete and innovate, and even fail. Russia not only strictly supervises, it also forbids any new startups from forming, as they might do harm to already established players. The result is no new innovation, and no new products of any real value.

Zhurong’s travels during first three weeks on Mars

Zhurong's travels through June 11th
Click for full image.

The science team for the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) today released a new image showing the path that China’s rover , Zhurong, has taken from its landing on May 14th through June 11th.

The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, is that photo. If you look close you can see the rover’s track skirting the edge of the bright blast mark put on the surface by the lander’s engines during touchdown. Though my scale bar is approximate, it does show that in those four weeks the rover traveled about 150 to 200 feet. However, half of that distance was crossed in the five days from June 6th to June 11th (as shown by the two different MRO images at these links), which means the pace is picking up.

The rover’s nominal three-month mission ends in mid-August, only two months from now. However, none of us should be surprised if the mission gets extended for as long as the rover continues to function.

Hubble remains out of commission, with no repair date in sight

According to a statement to Space.com provided by the engineers trying to fix the Hubble Space Telescope, “there is no definitive timeline for bringing the computer back online.”

The Hubble operations team is working to solve the payload computer issue onboard the Hubble Space Telescope. The team is working to collect all the data available to them to isolate the problem and determine the best path forward for bringing the computer back to operations. At this time, there is no definitive timeline for bringing the computer back online. However, the team has multiple options available to them and are working to find the best solution to return the telescope to science operations as soon as possible.

…Assuming that this problem is corrected via one of the many options available to the operations team, Hubble is expected to continue yielding amazing discoveries into the late 2020s or beyond,” the operations team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland told Space.com in an email. However, “there is no definitive timeline yet as to when this will be completed, tested and brought back to operational status,

I gather from this that they do have options to might fix the problem, but they have also found the problem to be more complex than expected.

While I honestly am confident these engineers can bring the telescope back to life, we must all be prepared for the strong possibility that this might be the moment when such a repair is impossible. If so, our vision of the heavens will once again be blinded by the poor vision available to us from inside the Earth’s atmosphere. And that vision will not be cleared in the foreseeable future by an American or western optical space telescope, as none are being designed, no less built.

The Chinese however are building one, for their purposes, which will be better than Hubble and is set to launch within the next few years to fly in formation with their new space station, close by so that astronauts can do repairs if necessary.

Long March 2F booster that launched astronauts lands on public road in China

Long March 2F strap on booster after crashing onto public road
Click for full image.

One of the four strap-on boosters used to launch three astronauts to China’s new space station on June 16th ended up landing on a public road in China.

The photo to the right, uploaded at this twitter feed, shows the booster. The parachute cords at its top explain why it is so relatively undamaged. The Chinese are apparently experimenting with parachutes to slow and maybe even control its descent. They might even be planning to catch the stage before it hits the ground, using a plane or helicopter, as both ULA and Rocket Lab hope to do with their Vulcan and Electron rockets.

Of course, we do not know this, as the Chinese tell us nothing.

Note that the hypergolic fuels, such as the hydrazine used in this booster, are extremely toxic. The person who took this picture is in very great danger, even if he or she does not know it.

Potential routes of hydrazine exposure include dermal, ocular, inhalation and ingestion.

Hydrazine exposure can cause skin irritation/contact dermatitis and burning, irritation to the eyes/nose/throat, nausea/vomiting, shortness of breath, pulmonary edema, headache, dizziness, central nervous system depression, lethargy, temporary blindness, seizures and coma. Exposure can also cause organ damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system. Hydrazine is documented as a strong skin sensitizer with potential for cross-sensitization to hydrazine derivatives following initial exposure.

Not that the Chinese government really cares. They have been dumping these boosters on their own people for decades, and only recently have apparently begun to look into ways of controlling their descent.

Japan passes law protecting property rights in space

Japan’s legislature on June 15th approved a new law designed to protect the ownership of the resources private entities extract for profit in space.

Japan’s legislation is similar to provisions in the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2015. That law grants U.S. companies rights to resources that they extract, but not property rights to celestial bodies, which would run afoul of the Outer Space Treaty. Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates have since passed similar legislation.

All four countries are signatories of the Artemis Accords, which endorses the ability to extract and use space resources. “The Signatories affirm that the extraction of space resources does not inherently constitute national appropriation under Article II of the Outer Space Treaty, and that contracts and other legal instruments relating to space resources should be consistent with that Treaty,” the accords state.

Both Russia and China oppose such legislation, as well as the Artemis Accords, which have now been signed by eleven countries.

What this growing alignment of opposing sides means for future space operations by private companies is unclear, though it suggests these two countries will not honor those private property rights, which in turn suggests this legal disagreement is eventually going to lead to physical conflict in space.

China’s Long March 2C rocket launches three military satellites

China today used its Long March 2C rocket to launch three military reconnaissance satellites into orbit.

The rocket’s first stage uses highly toxic hypergolic fuels, and is expendable. Since it is launched from the interior of China, that stage always crashes on land, sometimes near residential areas. No word on where it crashed today.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

19 SpaceX
18 China
8 Russia
3 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. still leads China 27 to 18 in the national rankings.

China and Russia outline long term plans for building joint lunar base

China/Russian Lunar base roadmap

The governments of China and Russia yesterday announced their long term roadmap for building a joint manned lunar base on the Moon, what they have labeled the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS).

The graphic to the right, rearranged by me from the PowerPoint slides released by the two governments, shows the overall plan.

The first phase, starting now and running through ’25, will involve six already planned unmanned missions by both countries, three each. Of the three Chinese unmanned missions, Chang’e-4, Chang’e-6, and Chang’e-7, the first is already operating on the Moon, as it includes the Yutu-2 rover. Based on China’s recent track record, it would be reasonable to expect the other two Chang’e missions to fly as planned.

Of the three Russian missions, Luna 25 is scheduled to launch later this year, making it the first all-Russian-built planetary mission in years and the first back to the Moon since the 1970s. The other two Russian probes are supposedly under development, but based on Russia’s recent track record in the past two decades for promised space projects, we have no guarantee they will fly as scheduled, or even fly at all.

The second phase, running from ’26 to ’35, will begin construction, though the details are vague.

The third phase, when China & Russia say they will begin full operations in ’36, is even more vague, merely stating the objective of human “lunar research and exploration”.

The pace matches well with the typically slow pace of these kind of government programs. It not only matches with the pace that China has shown in its entire manned program, with manned missions sometimes separated by years, it also matches the sluggish long term roadmap that NASA has put forth for its own Artemis program on the Moon. It also fits with Russia’s recent pattern, which is to repeatedly announce big projects and goals, with little actual execution to follow.

At first glance the plan suggests that we are in a new space race between the United States and its national partners in the capitalist west and the authoritarian governments of China and Russia. That may be so, but I think the real race will be between the government programs in China, Russia, and the U.S. and the efforts by private commercial companies aiming to make profits in space. And if you ask me to bet on who will get more accomplished faster for less money, I will hands down put my money on those private companies. The more profit they make, the faster they will push to move forward, and will quickly leave these sedate government programs in the dust.

Manned Shenzhou capsule docks with Tianhe

China’s manned Shenzhou capsule early this morning successfully docked with the Tianhe module of that nation’s new space station.

The three astronauts on board will spend the next three months doing work in connection with the assembly of that station. Though this was the first Chinese manned mission in five years, the pace is expected to pick up in the next year.

Eight more launches will be required to finish construction of the space station, Chinese officials have said. Two will loft “lab modules” that will attach to Tianhe, forming the final T-shaped station. The assembly phase, which is expected to wrap up by the end of 2022, will also include three more cargo launches and three additional crewed missions.

Chinese astronauts successfully launched into space

The new colonial movement: Using its Long March 2F rocket China tonight (June 17th in China) successfully launched three astronauts into orbit on their Shenzhou manned capsule for a planned three month mission to the first module of their new space station.

The most recent update as I post this:

Chinese mission control has confirmed today’s launch was a success, placing the Shenzhou 12 capsule into an orbit ranging in altitude between 120 miles (220 kilometers) and 208 miles (335 kilometers). Docking with the Tianhe core module is expected in approximately six hours. The rendezvous will be fully automated.

No word on where the four strap-on boosters and core stage landed within interior China.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

18 SpaceX
17 China
8 Russia
3 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. still leads China 26 to 17 in the national rankings, and will add to that lead if a planned SpaceX launch tomorrow goes as planned.

First manned mission to new Chinese space station to launch June 17th

The new colonial movement: China yesterday announced that the first manned mission to its new Chinese space station will launch tomorrow, June 17th, carrying three astronauts to the station’s Tianhe core module launched earlier this year.

One day before launch, China finally confirmed unofficial reports that it will launch the first crew to its new space station module, Tianhe, on June 17 Beijing Time (June 16 Eastern Daylight Time). It is China’s first human spaceflight launch in 5 years. The three men will stay aboard Tianhe for three months, the longest time in orbit for any Chinese crew.

During the three month mission the astronauts will do at least one spacewalk to likely deploy solar panels and other equipment preparing Tianhe for later modules.

The announcement also included statements by Russia that it has agreed to send Russian astronauts to the station at some point in the future.

No word on whether China will broadcast the launch live.

Brazil signs Artemis Accords

Brazil on June 15th became the first South American country to sign the Artemis Accords, designed to bypass the limitations placed on property rights created by the Outer Space Treaty.

U.S. policy requires any nation that wishes to participate in its Artemis program to go back to the Moon to agree to the accords. Brazil is now the eleventh country to sign, joining Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, and the United States.

Russia and China oppose the accords, which causes a problem for Russia as it desperately needs to partner with someone because it can’t on its own afford to build much. It is negotiating possible partnerships with China at its new space station as well as building a base on the Moon, but those agreements are not firm. And continues to send out feelers, including statements by Putin, calling for continuing cooperation with the U.S. in space.

Whether the Biden administration will make an exception for Russia in regards to the Artemis Accords remains unclear. That twelve countries have agreed to the accords however gives the U.S. greater leverage with those countries that have not yet signed.

China releases more images from Zhurong

Zhurong looking north past its lander
Click for full image.

The new colonial movement: Three weeks after its Mars rover Zhurong rolled off its lander to begin its 90 day mission, China yesterday finally released the first high resolution images taken by the rover.

The images included a 360 degree panorama, taken while the rover was still sitting on the lander, an image of both the rover and lander taken by a mini-camera that was dropped from the bottom of the rover, a picture of some interesting nearby boulders to the east, and a picture looking past the lander looking north.

This last picture is above, reduced and annotated by me. The small flat but distinct hill to the north I think is the nearest pitted cone that could be either a mud or lava volcano. That cone is about 3.75 miles away, and though a very enticing target is probably too far away for Zhurong to reach, unless it survives for years past its planned three-month mission, as did the American rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

The closer small ridges and hills just to its right could be the east and west rims of the nearest large crater, about 650 feet wide with a distorted shape, that is visible in the high resolution orbital images taken by both Tianwen-1 and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). This crater is about 1,600 feet away.

Based on these images it appears that once Zhurong rolled off the lander to the east, it immediately turned to the right to move several feet south, where it turned right again to move several feet to the west until it was just to the west of the lander, where it took the picture above. During that last move it dropped the small camera behind it so that it could take the picture showing both the rover and the lander.

These maneuvers and the rover’s position south of the lander and facing west suggest they are going to head to the west, where there are some nearby smaller craters and other interesting features. Whether they eventually go north, with that pitted cone a long term goal should the rover last longer than its planned mission through the end of August, remains entirely unknown.

China rolls rocket to launchpad for first manned mission to station

The new colonial movement: China yesterday moved to the launchpad the Long March 2F rocket it will use to launch the first three astronauts to occupy its new space station.

The first element of the complex, the Tianhe core module, launched April 28 aboard a heavy-lift Long March 5B rocket, China’s most powerful launch vehicle. An unpiloted cargo ship, named Tianzhou 2, launched May 29 and docked with the Tianhe core module eight hours later, delivering fuel, food and spacesuits for the Shenzhou 12 astronauts.

The Shenzhou 12 mission will last about three months, the longest stay in space to date by Chinese astronauts. Shenzhou 12 will be China’s seventh crewed spaceflight since 2003.

Chinese officials have not announced the launch date for the Shenzhou 12 mission, but rockets for China’s last three crewed spaceflights rolled to the pad at Jiuquan about a week before liftoff. That suggests the launch could occur around June 16 or June 17.

As this launch will be from a spaceport in the interior of China, it will dump its first stage boosters on land.

During that three month mission the three astronauts will likely do several spacewalks to deploy solar panels and other equipment on the exterior of the Tianhe module, preparing it for later modules as well as the next manned mission, scheduled for October and planned to last six months.

China releases orbital image showing Zhurong on Mars

Zhurong on Mars
Click for original image.

China’s state-run press today released two images taken by its Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter showing its Zhurong rover on the surface of Mars.

Those photos are to the right. The top shows the location prior to the rover’s landing. The bottom, taken on June 2nd, shows the rover and its landing platform, as well as its entry capsule, heat shield, and parachutes.

In the image, taken by a high-resolution camera installed on the orbiter of Tianwen-1 at 6 p.m. on June 2 (Beijing Time), two bright spots are visible in the upper right corner. The larger one is the landing platform, and the smaller one is the Zhurong Mars rover, the CNSA said.

…The dark area surrounding the landing platform might be caused by the influence of the engine plume during landing. The symmetrical bright stripes in the north-south direction of the landing platform might be from fine dust when the landing platform emptied the remaining fuel after landing, the CNSA said.

The bright spots in the center of the image are the back cover of the entry capsule and the parachute jettisoned during the landing. Another bright spot in the lower left of the image is the heat shield of the entry capsule, the CNSA said.

Based on the second photo, it appears that Zhurong has barely moved far from the lander since it rolled off on May 22nd.

And that’s all we really know. The Chinese press release provides no details about how well the rover is functioning, where exactly this location is on the surface of Mars, nor anything else of interest. The rover might be in the region covered by the MRO photos I posted yesterday, but if so the resolution isn’t good enough for me to find the spot. I am sure however that MRO scientists are presently carefully comparing their highest resolution version with these Tianwen-1 images to pinpoint it. They will then follow-up with their own high-resolution images of Zhurong from MRO.

The rover has a planned mission length of 90 Martian days, which runs through the end of August. How much the Chinese government will reveal about its operations and results however remains completely unknown. If it functions as planned expect science papers published in about a year. If not we will only get silence.

China’s Long March 3B rocket launches new weather satellite

China early this morning successfully placed a weather satellite into orbit using its Long March 3B rocket.

No word on where the first stage crashed, though we know because the launch was from an interior launch site that it had to have crashed somewhere within China, hopefully not on any village anywhere.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

16 SpaceX
15 China
8 Russia
2 Rocket Lab
2 ULA

The U.S. still leads China 22 to 15 in the national rankings.

This list should change in only a few hours, as SpaceX has a Falcon 9 launch scheduled for 1:29 pm (Eastern), carrying a Dragon cargo freighter to ISS.

China successfully launches 1st cargo freighter to its space station

On May 29th China successfully launched the first Tianzhou cargo freighter to bring cargo the now-orbiting first module, Tianhe, of its under construction space station, docking there one day later.

They plan to launch the first crew of three to the station in June.
The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

16 SpaceX
14 China
8 Russia
2 Rocket Lab
2 ULA

The U.S still leads China 22 to 14 in the national rankings.

Sorry for the late posting, but I have been off on a cave expedition in a very remote area in Nevada. Needed a break from the news and work. Presently on the long drive home. Posting will resume at full speed later tonight.

South Korea signs the Artemis Accords

On May 24 South Korea officially signed the Artemis Accords, joining nine other countries in the agreement designed as a work around of the Outer Space Treaty’s provisions in order to protect property rights in space.

By my count, that makes eight signatories, including Japan, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and Italy.

Essentially, the space-faring nations of the world are splitting into two groups, those who will follow these accords, and those who won’t, led by China and Russia. In a sense, we are seeing a renewal of the Cold War in space, with the western powers that believe in private enterprise and freedom aligned against those whose cultures are authoritarian and ruled from above.

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