Tag Archives: China

Long March 5B launch still set for mid-April, despite Wuhan virus

The new colonial movement: China is moving forward with its plans to complete the first launch of its big Long March 5B rocket in mid-April, despite the lockdowns because of COVID-19.

The Long March 5B is a variant of the Long March 5, which after two launch failures finally completed its first successful launch in December. The 5B is also the rocket they intend to use for all their manned missions, as well as launching the components of their manned space station.

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China launches three satellites with its Long March 2C rocket

China today successfully placed three military surveillance satellites into orbit, using its Long March 2C.

This rocket uses toxic hypergolic fuels, and is designed for placing satellites in low Earth orbit. Its first stage will likely fall somewhere in the Chinese interior, where the government will warn residents of the danger.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

6 China
5 SpaceX
4 Russia
2 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. still leads China 8 to 6 in the national rankings.

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Another Chinese state-sponsored company about to launch orbitally

Galactic Enterprise, another Chinese state-sponsored “private” company, says it will attempt its first orbital launch this coming June.

The rocket is named Ceres-1, after the largest body in the asteroid belt, and will launch from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. With three solid fuel stages and a liquid propellant fourth stage, it will be able to lift 350 kilograms of payload to an altitude of 200 kilometers in low Earth orbit. [emphasis mine]

Want to know why I do not consider this a real private company? From the article:

[Galactic Energy CEO and founder Liu Baiqi] earned a PhD from the prestigious Beihang University in Beijing before moving to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), a major subsidiary of the country’s main space contractor. He says everyone on the core team at his company has 10 to 20 years of background in research and development, as well as experience in spaceflight.

The Chinese national strategy of military-civil fusion is a crucial ingredient in China’s nascent commercial launch sector. It facilitates the transfer of restricted military technologies for civilian use, and vice versa. Liu notes that the strategy strengthens China’s commercial aerospace companies by establishing supply chains, providing access to test and launch sites, and securing orders from the government. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted text in both quotes above explains all. First, solid rocket technology is almost always reserved for missiles, as it can be stored easily for long periods, yet be ready to launch quickly. No private company, even in the U.S., can use it without heavy government involvement.

Second, Liu admits that his entire team comes from China’s long established space industry, which has always been dominated and controlled by that country’s government and military. I guarantee that everyone in his company has security clearances, and has worked on the past for China’s missile programs

Third, Liu’s own words confirm my conclusion. He calls it a “military-civil fusion,” but that’s just government weasel-words, another way of saying the government is running the show, entirely. It might be allowing him to form his own operation, using investment capital from Chinese investors, but everything he does is approved and supervised by the Chinese military and government.

It is for this reason I will not list these Chinese “companies” separately in my launch race updates, like I do with U.S. companies. They are not really private, or separate. They are all divisions of China’s military-communist government, and thus should be lumped together.

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 awake for 16th lunar day

Engineers have reactivated their Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover on the far side of the Moon to begin their sixteenth lunar day of operations.

The article provides some good information about the future plans for Yutu-2, including some maps showing its overall travels and planned route.

[A] new plan has been formulated for the Yutu 2 rover, which has already provided insights into the composition of the surface and what lies below. Li Chunlai, deputy director of the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC), told the state-run news outlet CCTV+ that the Yutu 2 team are targeting distant areas.

Yutu 2 has been driving across an area covered in ejecta from impact craters, but reaching new ground would be insightful. “If it can enter a basalt zone, maybe we can better understand [the] distribution and structure of ejecta from meteorite impacts,” Li said. “The distance may be 1.8 kilometers [1.1 miles]. I think it may take another one year for the rover to walk out of the ejecta-covered area.”

The rover has been averaging less than a hundred feet of travel per lunar day, so going 1.1 miles will take some time. Kudos however for the rover’s science team for deciding to attempt it. The decision reminds me of a similar decision by the Opportunity rover team to send their rover to Endeavour Crater, miles from their landing site. They made it, and thus explored a region no one ever expected the rover to reach.

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Launch failure for China’s new Long March 7A rocket

The first launch attempt of China’s newly upgraded Long March 7 rocket, dubbed the 7A, ended in failure today.

As is usual for China, very little concrete information was released, about the payload or the failure.

State news agency confirmed failure (in Chinese) just under two hours after launch, with no cause nor nature of the failure stated.

The Long March 7A is an effort by China to replace the use of rockets that use dangerous propellants and are launched in the interior of the country, sometimes dumping their first stages in habitable regions.

The Long March 7A is a variant of the standard Long March 7, which has flown twice. A 2017 mission to test the Tianzhou refueling spacecraft with Tiangong-2 space lab was its most recent activity. The launcher uses RP-1 and liquid oxygen propellant and could replace older models using toxic propellants.

It is also intended to launch from their new coastal spaceport in Wenchang. It did this today, though unsuccessfully.

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China on track for Mars launch in July?

Two stories today, one from Nature and the second from space.com, pushed the idea that China’s Mars orbiter/lander/rover mission is still on schedule to meet the July launch window.

A close read of both stories however revealed very little information to support that idea.

The Nature article provided some details about how the project is working around travel restrictions put in place because of the COVID-19 virus epidemic. For example, it told a story about how employees drove six scientific instruments by car to the assembly point rather than fly or take a train, thereby avoiding crowds.

What struck me however was that this supposedly occurred “several days ago,” and involved six science payloads that had not yet been installed on the spacecraft. To be installing such instrumentation at this date, only four months from launch, does not inspire confidence. It leaves them almost no time for thermal and vibration testing of the spacecraft.

The article also provided little information about the status of the entire project.

The space.com article was similar. Lots of information about how China’s space program is dealing with the epidemic, but little concrete information about the mission itself, noting “the lack of official comment on the mission.” Even more puzzling was the statement in this article that the rover “underwent its space environment testing in late January.”

I wonder how that is possible if those six instruments above had not yet been installed. Maybe the instruments were for the lander or orbiter, but if so that means the entire package is not yet assembled and has not been thoroughly tested as a unit. Very worrisome.

Posting today has been light because I was up most of the night dealing with a family health issue, meaning that I ended up sleeping for several hours during the day. All is well, nothing serious (it is NOT coronavirus), but it has left my brain and schedule very confused. Will likely take a good night’s sleep to get back to normal.

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China completes remote communications test of Mars rover

The new colonial movement: Though the report today in China’s state-run press is remarkably vague and lacking in details, it appears that they have successfully completed a remote communications test between their planned Mars rover and their ground control center.

The report also said that this will be the “only” such test before the summer launch of their orbiter/lander/rover to Mars.

China has been exceedingly closed-mouthed about this Mars project. Except for one landing test (which I found far from impressive), they have provided very little information about their progress.
While this does not mean they are having problems, it also does not engender confidence, especially because the launch window is only about four months away.

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China launches another GPS-type satellite

China today successfully launched another of its Beidou GPS-type satellites, using its Long March 3B rocket.

I found this data point from the link interesting:

Real-time, stand-alone Beidou horizontal positioning accuracy was classed as better than 6 meters (95 percent) and with a vertical accuracy better than 10 meters (95 percent). …[However, t]he system will be dual-use, based on a civilian service that will provide an accuracy of 10 meters in the user position, 0.2 m/s on the user velocity and 50 nanoseconds in time accuracy; and the military and authorized user’s service, providing higher accuracies.

New commercial GPS units will eventually add the Beidou constellation, and when combined with data from the U.S, Russian, European, and Indian systems, will likely get accuracies even higher.

The leaders in the the 2020 launch race:

5 China
4 SpaceX
2 Arianespace (Europe)
2 Russia

The U.S. still leads China 7 to 5 in the national rankings.

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 complete 15th lunar day on Moon

Chinese engineers have put both Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 into sleep mode after successfully completing their fifteenth lunar day on the far side of the Moon.

According to the story from China’s state-run press, Yutu-2 has now traveled just under 400 meters, or about 1,311 feet. We do not have a map outlining its total path, though past data suggests it has generally traveled westward away from Chang’e-4. Other than this detail, the story provides little other information.

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Another professor arrested for lying about working with China

Another professor, this time from the University of Tennessee, has been arrested for lying about his ties to China in a NASA proposal.

Anming Hu, an associate professor in the department of mechanical, aerospace and biomedical engineering at the university’s flagship Knoxville campus, was charged with three counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements…

Prosecutors say Hu defrauded the National Aeronautics and Space Administration by failing to disclose the fact that he was also a professor at the Beijing University of Technology in China. Under federal law, NASA cannot fund or give grant money to Chinese-owned companies or universities.

According to the indictment, as the University of Tennessee last December was preparing a proposal on Hu’s behalf for a NASA-funded project, Hu provided false assurances to the school that he was not part of any business collaboration involving China.

I wonder how much technical information he passed to China’s space effort.

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Chinese scientists publish radar results from Chang’e-4 lander

Layers as seen below ground by Chang'e-4 radar

The new colonial movement: Chinese scientists today published their first ground-penetrating radar results from their Chang’e-4 lander on the far side of the Moon.

Using a ground-penetrating radar instrument on Chang’e-4, researchers have found that the rover is likely sitting on different layers of ejecta—debris from multiple impacts over time that rained down at high velocities to blanket the lunar surface and now fill the crater. “[We] see a very clear sequence of [layers],” says Elena Pettinelli of Roma Tre University in Italy, one of the paper’s co-authors.

The rover’s radar instrument was able to penetrate up to 40 meters below the surface of the moon, more than twice the distance achieved by its predecessor, the Chang’e-3 mission, which landed on the lunar near side in December 2013. Data from the latest mission show three distinct layers beneath the rover: one made of lunar regolith, or soil, down to 12 meters; another made of a mix of smaller and larger rocks down to 24 meters; and a third with both coarse and fine materials extending the rest of the 40-meter depth.

The figure to the right comes from the paper [pdf] Though the layers have not been dated, their differences suggest different past events in the formation of this surface.

These results are excellent, but they also have many uncertainties. Radar can tell you a lot, but the only way you can really ever know anything about what’s below ground is to go there and actually do some digging.

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Yutu-2 finds rocks that appear young

Yutu-2 has found a cluster of small rocks that appear relatively young, with little erosion.

The rocks also also appear as if they came from another place on the Moon.

Closer inspection of the rocks by the rover team revealed little erosion, which on the moon is caused by micrometeorites and the huge changes in temperature across long lunar days and nights. That anomaly suggests that the fragments are relatively young. Over time, rocks tend to erode into soils.

The relative brightness of the rocks also indicated they may have originated in an area very different to the one Yutu-2 is exploring.

Youth in this case is very relative. The rocks might be young when compared to the surface on which they sit, but they still could be more than a billion years olf.

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Harvard professor arrested for his work with China

Charles Lieber, the chairman of Harvard’s department of chemistry and chemical biology, has been arrested by the federal government for lying about the work he has been doing for China.

An affidavit accompanying the criminal complaint in Boston further accuses Lieber of making false statements to the National Institutes of Health—a major funder of his research into nanoscale biological interfaces, such as transistors that can interact with intracellular biological machinery—as well as to Harvard itself, about his connections to [China’s] Thousand Talents program and the Wuhan University of Technology.

The arrest occurred very shortly after a Chinese medical student from Harvard was arrested for trying to smuggle cancer research material from a Harvard-affiliated medical center.

More information here. It appears that Lieber did not tell the truth about how much China was paying him for this work, which by the way was a lot of money, $50K per month plus $150K stipend for living in Wuhan while he helped build them a medical lab.

Hat tip Phill Oltmann.

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Maiden flight of China’s Long March 5B rocket targeted for April

The new colonial movement: China is now targeting mid-April for the maiden launch of its Long March 5B rocket, which will place in orbit China’s new manned capsule on its first unmanned demo flight.

The article at the link, from China’s normally reticent state-run press, actually provides a great deal of information. First, it outlines the launch schedule for their space station, using the Long March 5B rocket:

China aims to complete construction of the space station around 2022. According to the CMSA, more than 10 missions are planned in the next three years to complete the construction and master technologies for in-orbit assembly and construction of large complex spacecraft, long-term manned spaceflight in near-Earth space and large-scale space science experiments.

…The space station will be a T shape with the Tianhe core module at the center and a lab capsule on each side. The core module — at 16.6 meters long and 4.2 meters in diameter, with a takeoff weight of 22.5 tonnes — will be the management and control center.

Second, the article confirms that the Long March 5B rocket will be used to launch all of China’s manned missions. This means they are dependent on their biggest and possibly most expensive rocket to make things happen, suggesting that either they will have to go slow or they have made a very big commitment to space. The quote above suggests the latter.

Third, the article reveals that their new manned capsule, which will weigh almost as much as a single station module on either their station or ISS, will be capable of carrying six astronauts, and that the descent module is designed to be reusable.

Finally, they confirm once again that they will also be launching “a large optical telescope” that will fly in formation with their space station. An earlier news article indicated that this telescope would have a mirror 12 meters in diameter, which would be five times bigger than the mirror on the Hubble Space Telescope. That same article however also noted major design issues.

Overall, it appears China is about to step out as a major space power, with capabilities that in many ways will exceed anything from either the U.S. or Russia.

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Russia and China launch satellites

Today both China and Russia successfully placed satellites into orbit. China’s Long March 2D rocket placed four “technology test” satellites into orbit, while Russia used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch a military communications satellite.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

4 China
3 SpaceX
2 Arianespace (Europe)
2 Russia

The U.S. continues to lead China 6 to 4 in the national rankings.

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China’s candidate landing site on Mars

One candidate landing site for China's first Mars lander/rover
Click for full image.

The image to the right, reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and provides a close-up of the relative smooth terrain found in the region on Mars that the Chinese have said is one of their prime landing sites for their 2020 Mars rover and lander. According to planetary scientist Alfred McEwen of the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory in Arizona,

There was a presentation at the European planetary & science conference in Geneva last fall, and a Chinese scientist gave an update on their plans and showed this area with the lat-long coordinates. That’s what I’m going on.

McEwen also admits that “there might have been a change since then. I’m not in the loop.” No one outside China really is, as that government remains quite opaque on these matters. They will likely only reveal their final landing site choice as we get closer to launch.

Overview

This location, on the northern lowlands plains of Utopia Planitia, makes great sense however for a first attempt by anyone to soft land on Mars. In fact, in 1976 these plains were the same location that NASA chose for Viking 2, for the same reasons. (The Viking 2 landing site was to the northeast of the Chinese site, just beyond the right edge of the overview map) While there are plenty of craters and rough features, compared to most of Mars’s surface, Utopia could be considered as smooth as a bowling ball.

Even so, a look at the full image shows that there are numerous features nearby that would be a threat for any robotic lander. McEwen notes,
» Read more

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 awake for their 15th lunar day

The new colonial movement: Engineers have reactivated China’s Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover for their 15th lunar day on the far side of the Moon.

As usual, the story in China’s state-run press reveals little. This time however it does mention that Yutu-2 will continue traveling to the west, first to the northwest and then to the southwest.

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Coronavirus update

This article about the coronavirus epidemic (the virus is now officially dubbed Covid-19) focuses initially on how the Chinese are even quarantining bank notes in their effort to stem the disease’s spread.

I instead found this quote farther down the page much more significant:

More than 1,380 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 64,400 have been infected in at least 28 countries and regions.

The death rate of the disease, even as it has grown, remains about 2%. While tragic, this number suggests this hardly has the makings so far of a worldwide catastrophe. If anything, it appears to be about as deadly as the flu, which isn’t something to take lightly but also does not warrant any need for panic or desperation. The flu in the 2017-2018 season in the U.S. infected an estimated 45 million, killing about 61,000, a far lower death rate but impacting far more people. Like the flu, Covid-19 appears to be more deadly to older patients.

This epidemic needs to be taken seriously, but it so far does not justify any panic.

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The impact of coronavirus on China’s space industry

Link here. The focus when discussing the epidemic, which continues to grow, should certainly not be on how it is slowing China’s space industry. At the same time, any slow down in their space effort will give us a good indicator on how the virus is effecting their entire economy.

Anyway, it appears, at least as this moment, that the biggest effect in space is the halt of operations for the Kuaizhou smallsat rocket.

Expace, a launch service provider for solid-propellant Kuaizhou rockets, has temporarily halted work due to its proximity to the epicenter of the outbreak. A new Kuaizhou-11 rocket, larger than the Kuaizhou-1A currently in service, was reportedly scheduled for a test flight late February.

Expace is situated in the Wuhan National Space Industry Base, a hub designed to facilitate commercial space activities. The firm is a spinoff from defense contractor CASIC and its subsidiary, China Sanjiang Space Group. The Kuaizhou launch vehicle series are understood to be derived from missile technology.

Other impacts probably won’t become obvious for months, when we can gauge whether there has been a slow down in Chinese launches below the predicted 40 for 2020.

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Long March 5B arrives at launch site

The new colonial movement: China’s biggest rocket, the Long March 5B, has arrived at its launch site, where launch crews will do rehearsals using a prototype of that country’s core space station module, prior to an unmanned launch to test China’s new upgraded manned capsule.

The 5B is a variation of the Long March 5, which had its first successful launch (after two failures) in December.

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Yutu-2 and Chang’e-5 complete 14th lunar day

China’s Yutu-2 rover and Chang’e-5 lander have successfully completed their fourteenth lunar day of operations on the far side of the Moon, and have gone into hibernation.

The report from China’s state-run news agency is, as usual, decidedly uninformative. It is written to make it appear that Yutu-2 traveled 367 meters during this most recent lunar day, when in truth that is the total distance since landing. In comparing this total with the total at the end of the thirteenth lunar day, we find that Yutu-2 actually traveled only ten meters.

The report also provided no other information about where the rover went, or what it has been doing, other than saying the rover and its instruments operated as “planned.” The article did not even include a picture, either new or old.

It is a shame that China operates in this secret way. They are doing good stuff on the Moon. If they touted it proudly to the world, in as much detail as possible, they would do themselves far more good.

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Coronavirus update

Link here. In the past five days the number of people known to be infected has grown from about 450 to now more than 1,400, with deaths rising to 41 total. (The rate of deaths to those infected however has dropped, from 5% to less than 1%.) Also, a very small number of cases have been found in other countries throughout the world, limited so far to people who had recently been in the region of China with the most infections.

How serious is this epidemic? The rise in cases in only a week is concerning for sure, as very quickly the numbers are beginning to match the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003, which took a year to get to 8,000 infected. The so-far low death rate however suggests the disease is manageable.

The situation in China however is very serious. They have locked down regions with populations in the multi-millions, and the number of cases might soon strain their health system. Worse, we do not know if the numbers the non-transparent communist government is posting are accurate. There have been numerous rumors all week that the infection count is far higher than what has been publicly revealed. This could be true, or not. The rumors exist because no one trusts the communists to allow the truth to be published.

At the moment it still appears to me that, at least outside of China, the situation is under control. Whether it remains that way we can only wait and see.

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An update on the new virus outbreak originating from China

Link here. The numbers of people so far infected is hardly gigantic, less than 450 worldwide, with almost all confined to one province in China.

You can also find out some general information about this particular virus as well as other related viruses, such as SARS and MERS, in this separate article. All are far less threatening that press reports make them appear. For example, SARS only infected 8,000 people total, killing a little less than 10% of those infected.

This new virus appears so far to be even less deadly, with nine deaths total, about 5%.

While under no condition should this outbreak be ignored or poo-pooed, it is very important to recognize that, at least so far, it is hardly an epidemic that will wipe out civilization. This could change with time, but I doubt it.

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Prototypes of China’s core space station module and new manned spacecraft arrive at launch site

The new colonial movement: Prototypes of China’s core space station module and its new upgraded manned capsule have been delivered to the Long March 5B launch site.

The space station module will be used to test the installation and launch procedures for launching the actual module on the Long March 5B rocket. The manned capsule will be sent into orbit unmanned this spring on the Long March 5B to test both the rocket and the capsule, prior to human operations. This detail from the short article however is worth noting:

The new-generation manned spacecraft is 8.8 meters long and has a takeoff weight of 21.6 tonnes. It will be used for transporting crew to the space station and to conduct China’s future manned lunar missions.

Apparently in upgrading its Shenzhou manned spacecraft China has made it 0.3 meters longer and about four tons heavier. In fact, this manned ferry for getting to and from its space station is as heavy as a standard module used on both Mir and ISS. I could be wrong, but if this is the case they will require the Long March 5 or 5B for every manned flight. Since this rocket is large and expensive, it will be difficult to use it for maintaining a frequent launch pace, thus limiting the number of manned missions.

As I said, I could be wrong. Up until now I had assumed that a variant of the Long March 5 would be used to launch the station modules, and the smaller Long March 2F rocket used to ferry astronauts to it (as was done on all previous Chinese manned missions). This could still be the case.

If not, however, China’s space engineers have either put a limit on what they can achieve by overbuilding that manned capsule, or their government has made a major commitment to put a lot of tonnage into orbit. If the latter China’s space program is going to be quite competitive indeed.

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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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