China flagChina is celebrating a “National Day of Space Flight,” spotlighting the launch of its first satellite, Dong Fang Hong No. 1, on April 24, 1970.

Surrounding the festivities, Chinese space officials have pointed to a number of upcoming and projected space initiatives – such as Moon and Mars spacecraft launches, piloted space flight and space station building, as well as evaluating reusable launch technology.

China’s Tiangong-1. Follow-on space lab has been modified to provide crews more room and support extended space-stays. Credit: CMSE

China’s Tiangong-1. Follow-on space lab has been modified to provide crews more room and support extended space-stays.
Credit: CMSE

Five-year plan

Over the years, China has launched the Long March series of carrier rockets for 226 times, with a success rate of over 96 percent, notes Xu Dazhe vice minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, administrator of the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense and administrator of the China National Space Administration.

Xu explained that in the year of 2016, the beginning of China’s 13th Five-Year Plan, China’s Mars Exploration Project has been officially approved, the National Civil Space Infrastructure Construction has been established, the Moon-bound Chang’e-4 mission has been initiated, the Chang’e-5 lunar project has entered a key stage, the Beidou Navigation System has accelerated integration with global networking and the “non-poisonous and pollution-free” Long March 5 and 7 boosters are due for their maiden flights this year.

China's Yutu lunar rover took this image of Change'3 lander. New lunar landers are being readied for China's next step in Moon exploration. Credit: NAOC/Chinese Academy of Sciences

China’s Yutu lunar rover took this image of Change’3 lander. New lunar landers are being readied for China’s next step in Moon exploration.
Credit: NAOC/Chinese Academy of Sciences

The Tiangong-2 space lab and Shenzhou-11 piloted craft, Gaofen-3 Satellite, Fengyun-4 Meteorology Satellite, Hard-X Ray Modulation Telescope Detection Satellite and Quantum Science Experiment Satellite will also be launched this year, Xu said.

Credit: National Astronomical Observatories of Chinese Academy of Sciences

Credit: National Astronomical Observatories of Chinese Academy of Sciences

Xu also noted that China has in place over 100 cooperation agreements signed with 30 state-level space institutions and international organizations. “Starting from this new point, we are willing to take a more open attitude and collaborate with other countries to compose a new chapter in space exploration and contribute to human welfare.”

 

 

Red planet rover

“The Mars mission marks China entry into the de facto phase of deep-space exploration. Even though our spacecraft have already entered deep space, we need the Mars mission to help us improve our understanding of deep space,” Xu said.

Xu has reported earlier that the Mars probe, to be launched around 2020, is expected to orbit the red planet, land and deploy a rover all in one mission, “which is quite difficult to achieve,” Xu added. He said that the Mars mission was approved by central authorities in January.

Stressing the mission’s importance and difficulty, Xu said that although China has sent spacecraft deep into space, “only by completing this Mars probe mission can China say it has embarked on the exploration of deep space in the true sense.”

Reusable rocket technologies

 The state-run Xinhua news agency also reports that China is working on its own reusable rocket technologies.

Work has been underway on China's new Long March boosters. Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation

Work has been underway on China’s new Long March boosters.
Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation

According to Xinhua, Chinese rocket specialists have built a prototype model to test theories on reusable rocket booster landing subsystems. They have completed “experimental verifications” using “multiple parachutes” apparently attached to the booster, a source with China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technologies (CALT), developer of China’s Long March rocket series, said.

Ma Zhibin, deputy director of CALT’s aerospace department also confirmed to Xinhua that Chinese scientists are working on reusable rockets, although the technologies they employ may differ from those of Elon Musk and his SpaceX rocketeers.

“There is of course more than one way to do this … I believe we could see some serious results during the 13th Five-Year Plan period, Ma said, referring to the five years between 2016 and 2020.

Space lab living room

In related Chinese space news, Wang Zhongyang, spokesman with the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), detailed more about the upcoming launch of the country’s second space lab –Tiangong-2 — slated for liftoff in the third quarter of this year.

Tiangong-2 is assigned various duties, carrying out space science experiments and repair tests as prelude to China’s first orbital space station, expected to be in service around 2022.

Wang said Tiangong-2 has been modified from its predecessor, Tiangong-1. Those modifications will make the space lab more livable for mid-term stays of crews.

China's 60-ton medium-size space station is depicted in this artwork. Credit: CNSA

China’s 60-ton medium-size space station is depicted in this artwork.
Credit: CNSA

“Unlike Tiangong-1, Tiangong-2 will be our first genuine space lab,” Wang said. A two-person Shenzhou-11 spacecraft is to be linked to Tiangong-2 in the fourth quarter of this year. The two male Chinese astronauts are expected to partake in a 30-day mission in the new space lab before returning to Earth.

The yet-to-be-identified Chinese astronauts are currently receiving training for the mission.

In 2017, Tiangong-2 and China’s first space cargo ship, Tianzhou-1, are to link up in the first half of next year. Tianzhou-1 is to be orbited via a next generation Long March-7 rocket. During that mission, Chinese space authorities are to verify key technologies such as in-space propellant refueling.

 

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