The People’s Republic of China (PRC) looks set to become a science power-house with projects and ambitions in space overshadowing any other country on the globe.
China’s roots in space exploration can be traced back to the 1950’s when rocket propelled ballistic missile programs spearheaded national security measures. After two decades of military tensions in the region, the country’s first satellite was launched into orbit in 1970. However, it was not until 1993, when the China National Space Administration (CNSA) was formed that we got an idea of their intentions in racing to the stars.
After a series of unmanned missions from 1999 onwards, China soon became the third country to send humans in to space successfully when the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft launched astronaut Yang Liwei in October of 2003. Since then the space community has seen an exponential rise in the amount of missions and other research programs headed by the communist state.
Reaching for the Skies
Back in September we saw news regarding the Space Administration entering a three year test phase of the World’s largest Radio Telescope in the south-western Guizhou Province.
Measuring in at 500m across, the telescope dwarfs the current largest Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico by nearly 200m.
With the ability to detect signals in the furthest reaches of the cosmos as well as focus on extremely distant, dense stars, this instrument is likely to make China one of the globe’s science superpowers.
The Red’s Planet?
Following a number of scientific successes in the early part of this decade, the Chinese are continuing their aspirations in space exploration by planning un-crewed missions to both the Moon and Mars. In 2013 the Jade Rabbit lunar probe was launched as part of the lunar exploration program, which also aims to have the Chang’e-4 probe land on the far side of the moon by 2018.
The planet Mars seems to have captured the imagination of China as much as any other country. Beijing have a series of projects and launches lined up to prepare them for their first on-surface rover by 2020, and ambitions to send humans between 2040 – 2060.
China was also a leading member in the Mars 500 program, simulating the psychological effects of isolation for the duration of a mission to Mars, which is around 500 days.
After decades of cooperation with the then Soviet Union and continued support from Russia, the Chinese developed modified versions of their Shenzhou spacecraft with the intention of constructing a permanently manned Space Station by 2022 under the title of Project 921.
In 2011 the PRC began their continual testing program by launching the first in a series of spacecraft modules under the name Tiangong, meaning “Heavenly Palace”. Manned crafts Shenzhou 8,9 and 10 were launched in the early twenty-tens, all docking with the first module Tiangong 1, creating history for China’s space program.
The second phase of this project was only recently entered when the Tiangong 2 precursor facility was launched to rendezvous with the first module and, after a month on board Tiangong 1 conducting scientific and medical tests, two CNSA Astronauts returned to Earth safely.
Shortly after astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, the ruling Communist Party’s Central Committee commented:
“our manned space program has achieved major new progress and is the latest achievement in building a country of innovation and a world power of science and technology… It is the newest achievement of Chinese people in climbing the peak of the world.”