Tag Archives: China

China announces plans for asteroid/comet sample return mission

The new colonial movement: China today announced plans to fly an ambitious mission to both an asteroid and comet, which would also bring back a sample from the asteroid.

The current plan, which is still under discussion, calls for a probe to visit and collect samples from the small near-Earth asteroid 2016 HO3 (also known as Kamo’oalewa). “Then, the probe will fly back to the proximity of Earth, and a return capsule will be released to bring the samples back to Earth,” Xinhua reported today (April 18), citing a China National Space Administration official. “After that, the probe will continue its journey. With the assistance of the gravity of Earth and Mars, it will finally arrive at the main asteroid belt and orbit the Comet 133P to explore it.”

Both objects are unusual. The asteroid is in a strange solar orbit that almost makes it a moon of the Earth, while the comet appears to be a main-belt asteroid with comet-like activity.

The mission is not finalized yet, so expect some revisions.

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International payloads will fly on China’s Chang’e-6 lunar sample return mission

The new colonial movement: China today announced that it is reserving space on its Chang’e-6 lunar sample return mission for international experiments.

The orbiter and lander of the Chang’e-6 mission will each reserve 10 kg for payloads, which will be selected from both domestic colleges, universities, private enterprises and foreign scientific research institutions, said Liu Jizhong, director of the China Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center of the CNSA, at a press conference.

I suspect that the majority of these experiments will be Chinese, but I am also sure that China will get at least one international partner.

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Rover update: April 11, 2019

Summary: Curiosity successfully drills into the clay unit. Yutu-2 continues its exploration on the far side of the Moon.

For the updates in 2018 go here. For a full list of updates before February 8, 2018, go here.

Curiosity drill hole in clay unit on slopes of Mount Sharp

Curiosity

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see my March 2016 post, Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

The news this week from Curiosity is that the rover has successfully drilled into the ground in the clay unit valley the rover is presently exploring betweent Vera Rubin Ridge and Mount Sharp’s higher slopes.

The image to the right shows is a close-up of that drill hole.

The rover’s drill chewed easily through the rock, unlike some of the tougher targets it faced nearby on Vera Rubin Ridge. It was so soft, in fact, that the drill didn’t need to use its percussive technique, which is helpful for snagging samples from harder rock. This was the mission’s first sample obtained using only rotation of the drill bit.

Since my last rover update on February 20, 2019, they have been traveling for several weeks to get to a spot where they can do this drilling. The clay unit seems very soft, and almost mudlike, which made finding a good surface to drill somewhat challenging. Most of the terrain seemed too soft to drill into. It almost would be better to have a scoop, as the Viking landers had. Curiosity doesn’t really have this however. It needs to use its drill, which really is a more efficient way to get down deeper into the ground anyway.

The map below shows their recent travels.
» Read more

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Telescope store sues Asian telescope manufacturers for fixing prices

A San Francisco store that sells telescopes to the public is suing two Asian telescope manufacturers — who make almost all recreational telescopes sold in the U.S. — for conspiring together to fix prices and create that monopoly.

Orion Telescopes and Binoculars, which is headquartered in Watsonville and has stores there and in Cupertino, is seeking more than $180 million in damages in a lawsuit. A federal court in Northern California said the complaint against telescope maker Ningbo Sunny, filed in 2016, can go to trial. A subsidiary of Ningbo Sunny, a Chinese company, bought Irvine telescope maker Meade Instruments in 2013.

In the complaint, Orion alleges that Ningbo Sunny and a Taiwanese telescope manufacturer, Synta Technology, shared confidential information that competitors normally would not share, including product pricing, order forecasts and credit arrangements.

My question is this: Why are no American telescope manufacturers competing in this market? Are our labor costs too high? Our government regulations too restrictive? A little bit of competition could easily end this collusion by these Asian manufacturers, assuming it is happening.

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Yutu-2 and Chang’e-4 awake for fourth lunar day

The Chinese rover Yutu-2 and lander Chang’e-4 were awakened on March 30, 2019 to begin work for their fourth lunar day on the surface of the Moon’s far side.

The rover was designed to last for three lunar days, but much like NASA missions that regularly outlive their initial mandates, Yutu 2’s mission may stretch on longer, the Chinese space agency hopes. (The current rover’s predecessor, Yutu, lost its roving ability on its second day on the moon.)

The China Lunar Exploration Program, which heads up the mission, has not provided any details about its scientific plans for the fourth day of Chang’e 4, which is focused on exploring the far side of the moon and how it differs from the near side.

Based on the images taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, it appears they will be heading west, following the smoothest route away from Chang’e-4. This will place Yutu-2 in an area of small craters.

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India claims it has successfully destroyed a satellite using an anti-sat missile

The new colonial movement: In a speech to his nation today, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that they have successfully completed their first anti-sat test, using a missile to destroy a satellite in low Earth orbit.

The Indian ASAT test is believed to have destroyed either the Microsat-R or the Microsat-TD satellite, likelier the former according to some sources. They were both built by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). ISRO launched the Microsat-R on January 24 this year and the Microsat-TD a year before that.

Prime Minister Modi declared the test, codenamed Mission Shakti, a success and claimed that an ASAT missile had destroyed the satellite in its low-Earth orbit.

The missile in question is described as a kinetic kill vehicle, which means it does not carry any explosives or other devices. Instead, its ‘kill’ capability arises simply from the fact that it smashes into the target satellite and shatters it using its kinetic energy.

At this altitude, about 300 km, experts said that debris from the collision would fall back to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere in a matter of weeks instead of posing a threat to other satellites. As a result, Mission Shakti is called a controlled ASAT test.

What this anti-sat test really demonstrates is India’s ability to to hit a very tiny target that is moving more than 17,000 miles per hour with a missile shot from Earth, which proves they can hit any target on Earth, with great accuracy. And it thus a blunt message to both Pakistan and China. Don’t attack us, because if you do, we have the capability to do you great harm.

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OneSpace orbital launch fails

Capitalism in space? The first orbital launch attempt by China’s smallsat company OneSpace failed today.

No information about the cause of the failure or what happened has been released as yet.

I’m going to say this again: While OneSpace is financed through private capital, like a private company, it is also supervised closely by the Chinese government. It is hardly a private company as we in the West would define it.

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OneSpace to attempt first orbital launch this week

OneSpace, one of a bunch of companies in China attempting to launch smallsats, is expected to attempt its first orbital launch this week.

The article gives a nice overview of the present competition in China between several of these smallsat private companies, dubbed OneSpace, LandSpace, ISpace, and LinkSpace. All are funded through private investment capital, so all claim to be a private companies. However, nothing done in space in China is done without the approval and direction of the government. They might be designed as private companies, but they are also designed expressly to serve the needs of the Chinese government. That their company names are all so similar only strengthens this conclusion.

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Yutu-2 heads west!

LRO images of Yutu-2 on the Moon
Click for full image.

A new image from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) shows the path taken by the Chinese lunar rover Yutu-2 during its second lunar day of travel on the Moon. The LRO images on the right, cropped and reduced in resolution to show here, compares the rovers position at the start and end of February. The white arrow indicates the rover, with its Chang’e-4 lander visible between the three craters to the east. As noted by the LRO science team:

LRO passes over any given place on the Moon at least once every month (in the daylight), allowing the westward progress of the Yutu-2 rover to be seen. At the end of February, Yutu-2 was 69 meters from it’s home base, the Chang’e 4 lander; LROC images show Yutu-2 made 46 meters of westward progress during the month of February.

It appears from these orbital images that they are taking the smoothest route, with the fewest obstacles, away from the lander.

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China’s future lunar exploration plans

In a poster presented on Tuesday at this week’s 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas, China outlined its future plans for lunar exploration.

Systematically considering the major scientific issues of the Moon and the lunar in-situ utilization resources, Chinese scientists and technical experts have proposed a vision to preliminarily build a research station on the Moon’s South Pole by implementing 3-4 missions before 2035.

The first mission will carry out a comprehensive exploration in the South Pole of the Moon, including the topography, elemental composition and volatile contents of the Moon, and the information on the structure of the South Pole from shallow to deep levels. Water (ice) in the permanent shadow area was detected in-situ to reveal the content, distribution and source of water and volatiles on the surface of the Moon. After that, a sampling return mission will be arranged to collect samples from the South Pole of the Moon and return them to the Earth. In addition to the scientific exploration of the Moon, the utilization of lunar resources should also be taken into consideration. In later missions, lunar platforms will be used to make astronomical or earth observations and to consider the use of lunar resources. [emphasis mine]

China clearly intends to put its footprints on the Moon. It is not fiddling around with an orbital lunar station, as it looks like we are with NASA’s Gateway project. While China explores the surface, we will be stuck in orbit (maybe).

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Chinese lunar rover and lander enter their third lunar night

The Chinese lunar rover Yutu-2 and its lander Chang’e-4 have gone into hibernation as they enter their third lunar night on the far side of the Moon.

According to Chinese news reports, both spacecraft have now exceeded their nominal lifespan.

With all systems and payloads operating well, the Yutu-2 team will continue roving and science data collection on lunar day 4 of the Chang’e-4 mission, according to a [Chinese] announcement.

Yutu-2 added 43 meters to its overall drive distance in its third day of activities, continuing a path to the northwest of the landing site, which was recently named ‘Statio Tianhe’ by the International Astronomical Union. The rover just covered seven meters between waking for lunar day 3 on Feb. 28 and Mar. 3, during which time it navigated carefully toward a 20 centimeter diameter rock in order to analyze the specimen with an infrared and visible light spectrometer to determine its origin.

I am struck by how tentative the Chinese and their rover appear. The first Russian lunar rover, Luna 17, traveled 6.5 miles in eleven months. The second, Luna 21, traveled 23 miles in four months. At the pace Yutu-2 is setting, it will not come close to these mileages. Moreover, my impression of Chinese space technology in the past decade has been that it is quite robust. This tentativeness thus surprises me. Maybe because this is a government project they are simply covering their butts should something go wrong, and thus making believe the rover is more delicate than it really is.

As Scotty on Star Trek once said, “Always under predict, then over perform.” We might be seeing that pattern here.

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The military components of China’s space effort

Link here. Key quote:

Beijing now has a goal of “[building] China into a space power in all respects.” Its rapidly growing space program—China is second only to the United States in the number of operational satellites—is a source of national pride and part of President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” to establish a powerful and prosperous China. The space program supports both civil and military interests, including strengthening its science and technology sector, international relationships, and military modernization efforts. China seeks to achieve these goals rapidly through advances in the research and development of space systems and space-related technology.

China officially advocates for peaceful use of space, and it is pursuing agreements at the United Nations on the non weaponization of space. Nonetheless, China continues to improve its counterspace weapons capabilities and has enacted military reforms to better integrate cyberspace, space, and EW into joint military operations.

The PLA [People’s Liberation Army] views space superiority, the ability to control the information sphere, and denying adversaries the same as key components of conducting modern “informatized” wars. Since observing the U.S. military’s performance during the 1991 Gulf War, the PLA embarked on an effort to modernize weapon systems and update doctrine to place the focus on using and countering adversary information-enabled warfare.

What this report makes clear is that while China’s space program might have many visibly peaceful components, it is still tightly integrated with China’s military. Everything China does in space goes through the PLA.

We should also be aware that former managers of their space program are dominate throughout China’s entire political structure. Being a good manager in space has become the best route to gaining a powerful political position.

Both facts suggest that China’s space program will for the next few decades only grow in size and ambitions, for many military and nationalistic reasons. This also tells us that it is likely not a good idea to do any cooperative projects with them. They will not really be your partner, but will be using you to further their own ends, entirely.

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New LRO image of Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2

Chang'e-4 and Yutu-2

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team has released its third and best image of the Chinese Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover. The image on the right is a full resolution cropped section, with the lander on the bottom and the rover above and to the left.

Just after midnight (UTC) on 1 February 2019 LRO passed nearly overhead the Chang’e 4 landing site. From an altitude of 82 kilometers the LROC Narrow Angle Camera pixel scale was 0.85 meters (33 inches), allowing a sharper view of the lander and Yutu-2 rover. At the time the rover was 29 meters northwest of the lander, but the rover has likely moved since the image was acquired. This view has close to the smallest pixel size possible in the current LRO orbit. In the future however, LROC will continue to image the site as the lighting changes and the rover roves!

These future LRO images will allow us to track Yutu-2 and get an idea of its research, even if the Chinese do not release any information.

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IAU approves China’s proposed names for Chang’e-4 landing site

That was fast! The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has approved all of the proposed names that China submitted for the features at or near Chang’e-4 landing site.

The IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature has approved the name Statio Tianhe for the landing site where the Chinese spacecraft Chang’e-4 touched down on 3 January this year, in the first-ever landing on the far side of the Moon. The name Tianhe originates from the ancient Chinese name for the Milky Way, which was the sky river that separated Niulang and Zhinyu in the folk tale “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”.

Four other names for features near the landing site have also been approved. In keeping with the theme of the above-mentioned folk tale, three small craters that form a triangle around the landing site have been named Zhinyu, Hegu, and Tianjin, which correspond to characters in the tale. They are also names of ancient Chinese constellations from the time of the Han dynasty. The fifth approved name is Mons Tai, assigned to the central peak of the crater Von Kármán, in which the landing occurred. Mons Tai is named for Mount Tai, a mountain in Shandong, China, and is about 46 km to the northwest of the Chang’e-4 landing site.

Compare this fast action with the IAU’s approval process for the names the New Horizons team picked for both Pluto and Ultima Thule. It took the IAU more than two years to approve the Pluto names, and almost three years to approve the Charon names. It is now almost two months after New Horizons’ fly-by of Ultima Thule, and the IAU has not yet approved the team’s picks for that body.

Yet it is able to get China’s picks approved in less than a month? Though it is obviously possible that there is a simple and innocent explanation for the differences here, I think this illustrates well the biases of the IAU. Its membership does not like the United States, and works to stymie our achievements if it can. This factor played a part in the Pluto/planet fiasco. It played a part in its decision to rename Hubble’s Law. And according to my sources, it was part of the background negotiations in the naming of some lunar craters last year to honor the Apollo 8 astronauts.

The bottom line remains: The IAU has continually tried to expand its naming authority, when all it was originally asked to do was to coordinate the naming of distant astronomical objects. Now it claims it has the right to approve the naming of every boulder and rock anywhere in the universe. At some point the actual explorers are going to have to tell this organization to go jump in a lake.

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Chang’e-4 & Yutu-2 enter sleep mode for second lunar night

The Chinese lunar lander Chang’e-4 and its rover Yutu-2 have both gone into hibernation as part of their preparation for surviving their second night on the Moon’s surface.

The Yutu-2 rover and lander will resume science and exploration activities on Feb. 28 and March 1, respectively, according to the release, with the rover needing to unfold solar panels and dissipate heat.

The previous lunar night saw the Chang’e-4 lander record a temperature low of -190 degrees Celsius (-310 Fahrenheit), with measurements made possible by a Russian-developed radioisotope thermoelectric generator which also acts as a prototype for future deep-space exploration.

Official updates on the progress of the mission had been sparse during the second lunar day of operations, though some new images and footage were released ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday, which ran from Feb. 4 to Feb. 10.

Yutu-2 has traveled about 400 feet so far.

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LRO spots Chinese lunar rover

Yutu-2 and Chang'e-4 on far side of Moon

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team has now released a second and closer image of Chang’e-4’s location on the far side of the Moon, which now also shows the nearby rover Yutu-2.

The two arrows in the image to the right, cropped to post here, show both. The rover is the dot on the right, with the lander to the left, both just beyond the arrow tips. Both are very small, with Yutu-2 for example only two pixels across. Still, with both you can see their shadows, equally small, to the left of both bright dots. With sunlight coming from the right, all the craters, which are recessed, have their shadows on the right. The spacecraft, sticking up from the surface, have shadows going to the the left.

As Yutu-2 continues its travels, LRO will likely take more images, allowing us to track it even if the Chinese provide limited information.

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Chinese cubesat snaps picture of Earth and Moon from deep space

The Moon and Earth

A interplanetary cubesat, Longjiang-2, launched with China’s communications relay satellite that they are using to communicate with Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 on the far side of the Moon, has successfully taken a picture of both the Moon and Earth, as shown in the picture on the right.

Longjiang-2 is confirming what the MarCo cubesats proved from Mars, that cubesats can do interplanetary work.

And the picture is cool also. This was taken on February 3, when the entire face of the Moon’s far side is facing the Sun, illuminating it all. This timing also meant that the globe of the Earth would be entirely lit.

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LRO photographs Chang’e-4 on lunar surface

Chang'e-4 on the lunar surface

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team has released a spectacular oblique image that shows Chang’e-4 on the floor of Von Kármán crater.

Four weeks later (30 January 2019), as LRO approached the crater from the east, it rolled 70° to the west to snap this spectacular view looking across the floor towards the west wall. Because LRO was 330 kilometers (205 miles) to the east of the landing site, the Chang’e 4 lander is only about two pixels across (bright spot between the two arrows), and the small rover is not detectable. The massive mountain range in the background is the west wall of Von Kármán crater, rising more than 3000 meters (9850 feet) above the floor.

The image on the right has been reduced to post here. If you click on it you can see a larger version, but you need to download a very large file at the above link to see it at full resolution.

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China’s unsupervised radio antenna in Argentina

A Chinese invasion? A Chinese radio antenna in Argentina, initially proposed as a communications facility for use with China’s space program, operates without any supervision by the Argentinian government and appears to have military links.

Though U.S. government officials are pushing the idea that this facility is being used by China to eavesdrop on foreign satellites, and though China’s space program is without doubt a major arm of its military, I doubt the radio antenna is being put to military use. As the story notes

Tony Beasley, director of the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory, said the station could, in theory, “listen” to other governments’ satellites, potentially picking up sensitive data. But that kind of listening could be done with far less sophisticated equipment. “Anyone can do that. I can do that with a dish in my back yard, basically,” Beasley said. “I don’t know that there’s anything particularly sinister or troubling about any part of China’s space radio network in Argentina.”

It was installed to support China’s effort to send spacecraft to the Moon and Mars, and that is likely its main purpose. China does not wish to be dependent on the U.S.’s Deep Space Network for such interplanetary communications. This facility helps make that independence possible.

At the same time, the fact that China has been allowed to establish a remote facility in another country and operate it with no oversight is definitely an issue of concern. Essentially, China has obtained control over a piece of Argentinian territory, and unless the Argentine government takes action, China can do whatever it wants there. While the antenna itself might not be an issue, the facility itself is.

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A close look at Russia’s Vostochny spaceport

Link here. The article provides an excellent overview of the spaceport, its history, its corruption. It also gives some detailed information how the spaceport is affecting the remote cities nearby. This quote however is telling:

Across the space faculty and university at large, signs are written in Russian and in Chinese. Exchange students from across the river flock here in droves, and students participate in countless scientific and engineering projects with Chinese students. It is a very clear reflection of growing talk among Russian leadership that the country’s future in space does not lay in cooperation with NASA and the West, but with the ascendant Chinese space program.

Indeed, in the halls of Amur State University, the rich history of U.S.-Russia space rivalry and cooperation has already been relegated to the various rooms set aside as little space history museums. Something for students to ponder and reflect upon as they go about planning presentations for their next student scientific congress with their Chinese peers. Caught between the pull of Vostochny and China, these students have discovered hope for a future of opportunity in space.

This makes sense. Russia’s aerospace industry is in trouble. Worse, any future dependence on NASA’s very dubious lunar Gateway project to save it is questionable. China however is closer, and has a thriving and very successful space program. It would make sense for Russia to switch its partnership from the U.S. to China. Whether China is interested remains an open question.

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China fails to reduce its methane coal mine emissions

Surprise, surprise! Using satellite data, a new study has now shown that China has not only failed to reduce its methane coal mine emissions, it has allowed those emissions to increase.

China, already the world’s leading emitter of human-caused greenhouse gases, continues to pump increasing amounts of climate-changing methane into the atmosphere despite tough new regulations on gas releases from its coal mines, a study shows.

China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, which accounts for approximately 72 percent of the country’s electricity generation. While data show that coal production has increased in China, it has been unclear until now much methane gas, or CH4, has increased. Methane that is released during coal mining is responsible for the majority of coal-related CH4 emissions and is likely the largest human-caused CH4 source in China.

“Our study indicates that, at least in terms of methane emissions, China’s government is talking the talk, but has not been able to walk the walk,” says Scot Miller, an assistant professor of environmental health and engineering and of earth and planetary sciences at Johns Hopkins University.

The truth is that while China might say it has imposed “tough new regulations,” its commitment under the Paris climate accords actually allowed it to increase its emissions significantly for years to come, even as those same accords required the U.S. to decrease its emissions. This unfair situation, which China has apparently taking full advantage of, is one of the major reasons Trump dumped the accords. It also illustrates how little the Paris Accords had to do with climate change. Its real goal was to shift the balance of power and wealth from the U.S. to other countries.

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China aims for at least 30 launches in 2019

The new colonial movement: The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), China’s main government agency supervising its space program, has revealed that they have at least 30 launches planned for 2019.

This number brings the known predicted launches for 2019 to about 125, which I think would be the most ever in a single year, since Sputnik. It definitely would be the most since the 1980s.

The article also has the following information about the problems and delays that have prevented a third Long March 5 rocket launch since its second launch failed in 2017.

A redesign has been carried out to the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen YF-77 engines, two of which power the Long March 5 first stage, to correct the turbopump issue reported to be behind the 2017 failure. The return-to-flight mission will carry the Shijian-20 communications satellite, or “Practice-20” in Chinese, based on a new, large DFH-5 satellite platform which supports satellites from 6,500 to 9,000 kilograms.

A successful launch would mean the fourth Long March 5 would then be used to launch the Chang’e-5 lunar sample return toward the moon in late 2019. The mission will aim to collect up to 2 kilograms of rocks and regolith from a site near Mons Rümker in Oceanus Procellarum on the lunar near side and bring the samples to Earth.

A nominal return-to-flight would also clear the way for the test launch of the Long March 5B, a variant of the Long March 5 designed specifically for lofting the 20-metric ton modules of the planned Chinese Space Station (CSS) into low Earth orbit. CASC official Shang Zhi told China’s state-run Xinhua news agency that joint tests and exercises involving a test model of the rocket and the CSS core module will be carried out at Wenchang at the end of 2019 in preparation for the maiden flight of the Long March 5B. Launch of the first CSS module is currently slated for 2020.

I wonder if we will ever see the Long March 5 version ever launch again after the 5B launches successfully. I suspect not, as it appears to me that the new variant is really a cover for the significant redesign required after the 2017 launch failure.

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Next Long March 5 launch delayed six months to July

The next launch of China’s largest rocket, the Long March 5, has now been delayed another six months until July.

The second Long March-5 rocket was launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the southern province of Hainan on July 2, 2017, but a malfunction happened less than six minutes after its liftoff.

In October the Chinese had predicted this launch would occur in January, so this new schedule represents a six month delay. This further delay also confirms to me that their problem in 2017, which the Chinese have never fully explained other to say it caused damage to a turbopump in one first stage engine, resulted from a fundamental design flaw in the rocket’s first stage engines, requiring major reworking.

This delay also delays the launch of the first module of their space station, as well as their first sample return mission to the Moon.

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A detailed update on China’s numerous smallsat rocket companies

Link here. Based on this report, we should expect the first orbital launches from several of these Chinese smallsat rocket companies in 2019.

These numerous companies are ostensibly independent private companies who have raised Chinese investment capital. This is partly true. It is not the entire story however.

While the companies emerging in China’s nascent commercial launch sector are being backed by private funds, the firms are also apparently receiving significant support from the State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND), a government body overseeing the country’s space activities.

A national military-civilian integration strategy is also crucial to the progress made, facilitating the transfer of required and sensitive technologies to the startups, as well as opportunities to share facilities and expertise. [emphasis mine]

Unlike Russia, China’s government might have decided here to embrace competition to encourage innovation, but we mustn’t forget that these companies only exist because the Chinese government allows them to exist. Everything that happens in China’s space industry is done with the approval of the government, for the government’s purposes. Once these companies succeed, the government will co-op them. I guarantee it.

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Argentinian smallsat company signs 90 satellite deal with China

An Argentinian smallsat company, Satellogic, has signed a 90 satellite launch deal with China.

Satellogic’s constellation seems likely to compete with the remote-imaging satellite constellations operated by San Francisco-based Planet and Seattle-based BlackSky. The company promises to remap Earth at 1-meter pixel resolution every week and dramatically reduce the cost of high-frequency geospatial analytics.

The deal is officially signed with a so-called private launch company in China dubbed China Great Wall Industry, but that company merely acts as an agent for a Chinese government space operation, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.

What this means however is that China’s launch rate is going to go even higher in the next few years.

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Update on Chang’e-4 plant experiments

Link here. It appears the plant experiment has now run its course, designed as it was to end before the arrival of the first lunar night.

The experiment’s chief designer, Xie Gengxin of Chongqing University, told Xinhua that life inside the canister would not survive the lander’s first lunar night, which started on Sunday. The moon’s nighttime period lasts for about two Earth weeks.

It also appears that though the plant experiment included potato, cotton, and oilseed rape, only the cotton seeds spouted. China has only released a limited amount of information about this research, so to get further details we will likely have to wait for the published papers.

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Seeds sprout on Chang’e-4

The new colonial movement: The cotten seeds in a plant experiment on Chang’e-4 have now sprouted, becoming the first biological life to grow on the Moon.

On Tuesday, Chinese state media said the cotton seeds had now grown buds. The ruling Communist Party’s official mouthpiece the People’s Daily tweeted an image of the sprouted seed, saying it marked “the completion of humankind’s first biological experiment on the Moon”.

Fred Watson, Australian Astronomical Observatory’s astronomer-at-large, told the BBC the development was “good news”. “It suggests that there might not be insurmountable problems for astronauts in future trying to grow their own crops on the moon in a controlled environment. …I think there’s certainly a great deal of interest in using the Moon as staging post, particularly for flights to Mars, because it’s relatively near the Earth,” Mr Watson said.

Prof Xie Gengxin, the experiment’s chief designer, was quoted as saying in the South China Morning Post: “We have given consideration to future survival in space. Learning about these plants’ growth in a low-gravity environment would allow us to lay the foundation for our future establishment of space base.” He said cotton could eventually be used for clothing while the potatoes could be a food source for astronauts and the rapeseed for oil.

This experiment is actually a very big deal, as it is the first biological experiment, ever, to take place in a low gravity environment. All previous plant experiments in space have taken place in zero gravity, and thus failed to tell us anything about growth in a partial Earth gravity environment.

That the seeds have sprouted only tells us that they can. What we don’t know yet is if the low lunar gravity distorts their growth.

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