By A.D. 1000, the Chinese were using "fire arrows." At first, that name merely meant conventional arrows burning, but later it meant what we now call rockets. Chinese alchemists mixed sulphur, saltpeter (potassium nitrate) and charcoal (carbon) to make the explosive gunpowder that was the earliest solid fuel for rockets. By A.D. 1045, gunpowder rockets were important weapons in in China's military arsenal.
A Long March rocket
Gunpowder Rockets. Old records show the huge Chinese gunpowder rockets carried iron shrapnel and incendiary material, and may have had the first combustion-chamber "iron pots" to direct thrust. Blast off of a fire arrow was heard for 15 miles and its impact demolished everything within half a mile.
The Long March Space Rockets
In the 20th century, China's first long-range military ballistic missiles, and eventually space rockets, were developed by Tsein Weichang, an immigrant to the U.S. from China, educated in Canada. Tsein Weichang worked for the U.S. government at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, but returned to China in 1949 as the United States entered a period of anti-communist witch hunting.
Long March. Mao Zedong's famous long march revolutionized the ancient territory of China leading to his Communist victory in 1949. Mao formed the Peoples Republic of China. The PRC was on friendly terms with the former USSR.
On October 8, 1956, the PRC opened its first Missile and Rocket Research Institution. However, there was not much news in Chinese rocketry until the 1960's when experiments with liquid-fuel rockets picked up steam. Satellites, and space rockets to carry them to orbit, were designed.
Changzheng. Chinese space rockets are known as Changzheng, or Long March. CZ is short for Changzheng.
China's first satellite, named Mao 1, was launched to Earth orbit April 24, 1970, on a Long March 1 rocket.
How big are these rockets? The drawing at right compares the relative sizes of selected Chinese boosters including Long March 1 (CZ-1), Long March 2 (CZ-2) and Long March 3 (CZ-3). All use liquid fuel.
* Long March 1 (CZ-1) was first sent to space April 24, 1970. The three stage Long March 1, in service since 1970, is 97 ft. tall and 7 ft. in diameter. It can carry 661 lbs. to a circular 273 mile high orbit.
* Long March 2 (CZ-2) was first fired July 26, 1975. The two-stage Long March 2, used since 1975, is 107 ft. tall and 11 ft. in diameter.
* Long March 3 (CZ-3) was first used August 19, 1983. The three-stage Long March 3, in use since 1983, is 142 ft. tall and 11 ft. in diameter. It can lift a 3,086-lb. payload to a 120-mi. geosynchronous transfer orbit.
* Long March 4 (CZ-4) was first used September 6, 1988. The even larger Long March 4, first used in 1988, is not shown.
The People's Republic of China has made scores successful satellite launches since 1970. They have included remote sensing, communications and weather satellites for both civilian and military use. Among them, the PRC has sent many to orbit with packages to be retrieved from space.
The Chinese have sustained several launch failures over the years.
Long March 4. Today, China's workhorse series of space boosters is the Long March 4. It can lift 11,000 lbs. to a low orbit, using the same first and second stages as a Long March 3. Using a different third stage for shots to low and medium altitude orbits, it can carry more than 8,000 lbs.
With 600,000-lbs. thrust, Long March 4 will lift 5,000 lbs. to stationary orbit. That's nearly double the previously-most-powerful Long March 3, in use since 1983. Long March 3 can lift 2,800 lbs. to stationary orbit or 6,000 lbs. to a low orbit. A Long March 2 can ferry a satellite of less than 2.5 tons to a low-Earth orbit.
China first used a Long March 4 to launch a heavy weather satellite to stationary orbit from Taiyuan in 1988. Great Wall Industrial Corp., which sells launch services, uses the bigger rocket to draw more foreign customers for commercial satellite launches.
Space Triple. In the history of Chinese spaceflight, the PRC hit an interesting space triple on September 6, 1988:
Similar to U.S. NOAA weather satellites, Feng Yun 1, or Wind and Cloud No. 1, had infrared and visible light sensors. Wind and Cloud No. 1 was designed to radio data on clouds, ocean surface temperatures, marine water color, Earth's surface, vegetation growth, and ice and snow cover to ground stations around the world. It transmited pictures to Earth on a frequency of 137.78 MHz. Unfortunately, Feng Yun 1 had problems and tumbled out of control.
- Inaugural use of a third space launch site, in north-central China at Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, south of Beijing,
- Maiden voyage of a new heavy-lifting Long March 4 space booster rocket,
- First launch of a 1,650-lb. Feng Yun 1, or Wind and Cloud No. 1, weather satellite to a 560-mi.-high polar orbit.
Weaver Girl. China offered another launch for its record book when it hit a space double header December 19, 1988. The PRC launched a new space rocket from a new space center on southern Hainan Island.
The new rocket, known as Weaver Girl 1, named after a Chinese legend, ferried a recoverable satellite to space. The payload remained in space 2.5 hours, then returned to Earth 40 miles from the launch site. The blast off was the first time Chinese scientists had researched Earth's atmosphere from a low-latitude equatorial launch site.
Weaver Girl I was developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Defense Science and Technology.
Spaceports. The world's most populous nation launches its Long March rockets, carrying satellites to Earth orbit, from four major space complexes:
* Jiuquan launch site in the northern Gobi Desert in far-western China, not far from Mongolia,
* Taiyuan launch site in Shanxi Province, 60 miles southwest of Beijing, in north-central China,
* Xichang launch site in an isolated corner of Sichuan province in southern China, not far from Burma, Laos and Vietnam, and
* Hainan Island off the southern coast of China, separating the South China Sea from the Gulf of Tongking. Only 19 degrees north of the equator, it is southeast of Hanoi, Vietnam, across the Gulf of Tongking.
All of the sites are remote and usually closed to foreigners, although the press was taken to the Xichang Satellite Center in 1988 as China was pressing the U.S. for approval of its launch business.
Hainan Spaceport. Hainan Island is off the southern coast of China, separating the South China Sea from the Gulf of Tongking. It is southeast of Hanoi, Vietnam, across the Gulf of Tongking. The Hainan Space Base, only 19 degrees north of the equator, is used for low-latitude, low-altitude space research launches. Initially, rockets blasting off from Hainan flew only to a height of about 74 miles above Earth.
Xichang Spaceport. Xichang Launch Center is in hilly farm country in an isolated corner of Sichuan province in southwestern China. China launched Pakistan's Badr-A satellite from Xichange in 1990 on the then-new Long March 2E rocket.
Long March 2E was designed to lift 15,000 lbs. to a low elliptical orbit ranging from 250 to 500 miles above Earth. The rocket, called Cluster Carrier, blasted off from a new pad built to launch bigger boosters. Long March 2E, with four boosters strapped on, carried a large Australian dummy satellite and the 150-lb. Badr-A.
Goverment Space Operations
Astronautics. Rocketry in China is run by the Ministry of Astronautics, a government agency. Lin Zongtang is minister of China's aerospace industry.
CAST. The state-owned Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST) is China's only designer and manufacturer of space satellites. The state-run Overseas Telecommunications Commission (OTC), Australia's international telecommunications arm, signed a cooperation agreement with CAST in 1991. In a satellite joint venture, CAST would be responsible for launch facilities, while OTC would manage the launch.
Launch Sales. Satellites have been launched for foreign owners. China's commercial space launch firm is the Great Wall Industrial Corp.
For a time after the 1986 shuttle Challenger disaster in the U.S., there was a worldwide shortage of launch vehicles. During that window of commercial opportunity, China began offering launch services to foreign countries in 1987. Great Wall Industrial Corp. sells the launch services.
Simplicity of operation and a high success rate have allowed China to offer prices lower than U.S. commercial launch firms and the European Space Agency.
In 1990, the U.S.-made ASIAsat 1 commercial communications satellite was launched on the first commercial flight of the Long March 3 rocket. The Peoples Republic of China has commercial launch contracts with other nations as well. Xichang Satellite Center is China's takeoff point in the international satellite-launch market.
Learn More About China in Space
Shenzhou 5 and Yang Liwei:
Chinese Lunar Exploration:
Chinese Space Launch Sites:
Chinese Space Rockets:
Chinese Space Satellites:
China's space industry:
Learn more about China:
© 2005 Space Today Online