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China Dedicated To Slow But Bold Space Program; Seeking U.S. Cooperation

By | April 10, 2006


      A developing and growing economy in China has caught the space bug and is dedicated to a "slow" but bold space exploration program, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank.
      CSIS recently completed a tour of China’s space program to assess their current status and perspectives on human exploration. Meetings took place in Beijing with government bodies, space agencies, industry, and nonprofit organizations. Last week CSIS provided a brief synopsis of their findings with Luo Ge, deputy administrator of China National Space Administration, who was visiting Washington.
      Luo provided an overview of China’s space exploration plans during an event organized by CSIS on April 3.
      "China’s program, which is growing very steadily and methodically, appears to be well thought out and intelligently planned over the long term," CSIS said.
      China launched their first satellite in 1970 and since then has made more than 70 spacecraft, providing telecommunications, weather, space science research, and earth observation services. In 2003, China launched their first manned mission and is already planning the development of a heavy launch vehicle that will allow for some impressive lunar missions.
      Aside from its traditional cooperation with Russia on human space flight, which has helped the Chinese accelerate their human space flight program, China is cooperating closely with Europe, Australia, Canada, and Brazil. In addition, China provides in-orbit delivery of telecommunications satellites for countries such as Nigeria and Venezuela.
      "China is interested in further cooperation with other nations in civil space," CSIS said. "China mentioned that it would like to take part in an international lunar program and, to that effect, has already planned to launch a lunar orbiter in 2007. The orbiter is financed by the military portion of China’s space program and will incorporate scientific payloads."

      U.S. Cooperation
      In January 2004, President Bush unveiled a new Vision for Space Exploration, calling on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to gain a new foothold on the moon and to prepare for new manned "journeys to the worlds beyond our own."
      "We’ll invite other nations to share the challenges and opportunities of this new era of discovery," Bush said. "The vision I outline today is a journey, not a race. And I call on other nations to join us on this journey, in the spirit of cooperation and friendship."
      Under the President’s new Vision for Space Exploration, the current Space Shuttle fleet would be replaced by a new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). NASA has begun work on the CEV, but it won’t be operational until 2013 or 2014 because of budget constraints. In addition, soft congressional support may slow the timeline for the new CEV program.
      "Let me make clear that I do not think it is a priority to add funding above the request to the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) program at NASA," said House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.). Boehlert made his comment Thursday during testimony before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice, and Commerce.
      "I support the President’s Vision for Space Exploration," Boehlert said, "but I do not see any great advantage to be gained from launching the CEV in 2012 rather than 2014. Too many other items are of greater concern."
      "No one has described any actual threat posed by the additional two-year gap – even taking into account Chinese space efforts – and the U.S. should be able to maintain an adequate aerospace workforce as long as it is clear that work on the CEV is proceeding according to schedule. Our priorities should not be skewed by emotional appeals," Boehlert said.
      Asked if China was looking for cooperation with the United States on the current International Space Station program, Luo said, "We have always been interested; we don’t have a ticket yet."
      "For a Chinese astronaut to be able to use the space station is absolutely, positively unacceptable," said congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.). Wolf is chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee with NASA oversight. "The thought of the Chinese, who have 11 Catholic bishops now in jail, reaching the moon before the United States I think is very, very troubling."
      China plans to construct a space lab by 2015 and further implement their manned space missions, Luo said last week during the CSIS press briefing.

      Future Missions
      China has performed 46 consecutive successful launches since 1996, placing 23 satellites and five Shenzhou manned spacecraft in orbit.
      Chinese missions planned in the future:
      Feng Yun-3; new generation polar orbit meteorological satellite for full weather observation. This will be a three to five year mission launched in 2006.
      SinoSat-2; fifteen year large geosynchronous satellite platform flight validation mission. This mission will launch in 2006.
      HY-1B; three year oceanography satellite mission planned for launch in 2006. HY-1B will be placed in a 798 kilometer (495 mile) high sun-synchronous orbit above Earth.
      Lunar Flyby; planned for 2007.
      Environment and Disaster Monitoring Constellation; the first civil satellite constellation with four Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and four optical satellites. The first stage will launch two optical and one SAR satellite in 2007.
      China Brazil Earth Resources Satellite-02B; two year earth resource satellite mission planned for launch in 2007.
      High Resolution Stereo Imaging Satellite; three-year mission planned for launch in 2008.
      Recoverable Scientific Missions; 3,600 kilogram (7,937 pound) satellite planned for launch in 2008.
      China Brazil Earth Resources Satellite-03/04; three year earth resource satellite mission planned for launch in 2008.
      HY-2; for monitoring of ocean waves, ocean wind field, ocean gravity field, ocean currents and ocean surface temperatures. This mission will be launched in 2008.
      Magnetic Field Detection Satellite; earthquake prediction satellite mission planned for launch in 2008.
      First Public Telecommunications Satellite; planned for launch before 2011.
      Lunar Soft Landing; planned for 2012.
      Manned Space Lab; Construct space lab by 2015.
      Lunar Sample Return; planned for 2017.

      Imagery Demand
      Last month, Beijing Space Eye Innovation Technology Corp. (BSEI), a business partner of U.S.-based DigitalGlobe, hosted the first high-resolution satellite imagery users conference in Beijing that attracted more than 330 attendees from 22 provinces and cities throughout China.
      Held on March 7, the conference was sponsored by DigitalGlobe and was dedicated to supporting the use of high-resolution satellite imagery in China.
      A majority of the participants were professionals from the Geographic Information System, remote sensing and surveying/mapping fields as well as those from research and educational institutions. Other attendees represented markets ranging from land resources and urban planning to forestry, oil and mining.
      The event was intended to create a forum for discussing the applications of DigitalGlobe satellite imagery and ways to improve application technologies, as well as fostering relationship-building and smooth coordination among BSEI, DigitalGlobe and end-users of the data in China.
      DigitalGlobe is a leader in the global commercial Earth imagery and geospatial information market. DigitalGlobe’s QuickBird satellite, launched in 2001, is the world’s highest resolution commercial imaging system. The company’s next-generation WorldView I is scheduled to launch in mid-2007, and WorldView II is anticipated to launch in 2008, pending finalization of customer contracts.

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