China in Space China's

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The Peoples Republic of China launched its first satellite -- known as China 1 or Mao 1 -- to Earth orbit on its own "Long March" space rocket on April 24, 1970. The 390-lb. electronic ball floated around the Earth blaring the patriotic song The East Is Red.

The launch made China the fifth nation with a space rocket. Before that first successful launch, the Chinese may have sustained a launch failure in 1969. They may have suffered three failures in 1974 and another in 1979.

Chinese ocean satellite China has made scores of successful satellite launches since 1970. By the end of 2001, China had launched nearly 50 satellites with a 90 percent success rate. The spacecraft have included remote sensing, communications and weather satellites for both civilian and military use.

China started selling commercial space launches to foreign satellite owners in 1986 during a time when U.S. shuttles and European rockets were grounded. Numerous satellites have been launched for paying foreign owners. China's commercial space launch firm is the Great Wall Industrial Corp.

Pakistan's Badr-A. China launched Pakistan's first satellite to a 375-mi.-high circular orbit on July 16, 1990. The satellite, Badr-A, was launched aboard the maiden flight of the Long March 2E rocket from Xichang Launch Center in China. After 146 days in space, Badr-A fell into the atmosphere and burned.

China and AsiaSat. Western Union's Westar 6 satellite and the Indonesian satellite Palapa B2 were carried to orbit in 1984 by shuttle Challenger. Palapa and Westar were dropped off in orbits lower than planned so both satellites failed. Later that year, the pair were recaptured by astronauts spacewalking from shuttle Discovery. They were returned to Earth and refurbished on the ground.

The retrieved Westar 6 was renamed AsiaSat and launched by China using a Long March rocket, the first American satellite sent to orbit by a non-Western country.

Chinese satellite Homing satellite. In November 1975, the first Long March 2 rocket carried China's first "homing satellite" to orbit. That made China the third nation capable of retrieving a satellite. Since then, the PRC has sent numerous satellites to orbit with packages to be retrieved from space.

Multiple Launches. The pace of China's space industry picked up in the 1980s and 1990s. In September 1981, the PRC successfully launched three satellites to orbit with one rocket.

Manned Capsules. In 1999, China launched and recovered an unmanned capsule designed to carry men and women into orbit in the 21st century. The successful launch was Nov. 20 and the controlled landing was Nov. 21.

Chinese Shenzhou launch The flight was part of preparations to send the PRC's first persons into orbit in the 21st century. China wants to become the third nation on Earth to put a human in space. Only the United States and Russia have done so using their own rockets.

The dome-shaped capsule was named "Shenzhou," meaning "Divine Vessel" or "Vessel of the Gods." Shenzhou is similar to Russia's Soyuz capsule, which carries cosmonauts to and from Russia's Mir space station.

The unmanned craft was launched atop a new model of China's Long March rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. About 10 minutes after liftoff, Shenzhou separated from its launch vehicle and went into orbit, circling Earth 14 times over 21 hours before controllers brought it down safely in Inner Mongolia.

State of the Art. China has come a long way in space. In 2000, Beijing orbited its first high-resolution electro-optical imaging satellite, which relays its state-of-the-art digital pictures by radio to ground stations. In the past, Chinese satellites snapped pictures on photographic film which then was dropped down to Earth in canisters.

The resolution of the digital-imaging satellite is less than the capability of the sharpest U.S. military reconnaissance satellites, but comparable to the sharp images produced by U.S. and European commercial satellites, which produce pictures with a resolution of about nine feet.

That means the Chinese satellite, named Ziyuan-2 (ZY-2), could produce photographs showing objects ranging in size down to nine feet across -- a resolution more than three times the capability of China's earlier earth sensing satellite, Ziyuan-1 (ZY-1). ZY-2 is lower in orbit than ZY-1, which also means the satellite could offer higher resolution.

Remote sensing. When the satellite was launched Sept. 1, 2000, from the Taiyuan Satellite Launching Center in the northern Shanxi Province, the official Xinhua news agency had called it Ziyuan-2 (ZY-2) and described it as a civilian "remote sensing" spacecraft. Ziyuan means "resource."

Earth sensing satellites monitor environmental changes and explore for natural resources on the ground. Xinhua said the satellite would be employed mostly for territorial surveying, city planning, crop yield assessment, disaster monitoring and space science experimentation.

More remote sensors. China successfully put a second ZY-2 in orbit on Oct. 27 2002. Then, on Nov. 6, 2004, China launched a third ZY-2 to orbit with a Long March 4-B rocket from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern Shanxi Province.

The ZY-2 remote sensing satellites are used mainly for land resource surveying, environmental supervision and protection, city planning, crop yield assessment, disaster monitoring and other science experiments.

The first and second ZY-2 satellites are still in orbit. The third has improved performance and technology in comparison with the first two resource satellites.

Ground control for the satellites is at the Xi'an Satellite Monitor and Control Center in northwest China.

Upgraded Long March. The Long March 4-B booster rocket is an upgraded version of the Long March 4-A. The Nov. 5, 2004, launch was the 82nd time that a Long March rocket had been used and the 40th continuous success since China launched the first Long March 4 rocket in October 1996.

The big secret. There have been unsubstantiated reports that, in reality, Chinese military forces have merely disguised all or part of the ZY-2 satellites as civilian devices, while actually using them to spy on U.S. and other forces in Asia. That is according to a report in the Washington Times newspaper.

U.S. intelligence officers reportedly told the newspaper the spysats are orbiting with false identities as civilian Earth-monitoring systems. The reports held that publicly, the satellites are named Ziyuan-2 (ZY-2), but secretly they are designated Jianbing-3.

If the reports were accurate, such photo-reconnaissance satellites could be used for planning combat missions, targeting missiles at U.S. forces in Japan, or preparing aircraft strikes on Taiwan, an island nation that Beijing claims as a province of China.

The ZY-2/Jianbing-3 satellites complete elliptical orbits around Earth every 94.3 minutes at an altitude ranging from 294 to 305 miles.

Built by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology, each of the spacecraft is expected to work for two years in orbit.

Military satellites. China launched its first military communications satellite in January 2000 as part of a People's Liberation Army command-and-control network linking forces for combat.

China will launch more high-technology space platforms, including even-higher-resolution imagery satellites, electronic signals intelligence (SIGINT) satellites and military communications satellites.

Today, however, Chinese satellite technology not only serves military purposes, but it serves many areas of the national economy. Future satellites will be especially useful in developing the remote western areas of China.

Five year plan. China is planning to launch at least 35 different science and application satellites during the years 2002-2006, according to Xinhua News Agency. The satellites would be used for communications and direct-to-home broadcasting, meteorological and oceanographic observations, navigation and positioning, disaster mitigation, and seed breeding. They also plan to launch manned spacecraft.

CASC. China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) is a large state-owned enterprise that builds five different series of satellites. They include:
  • Dongfanghong communications satellites
  • Fengyun weather satellites
  • Shijian science exploration satellites
  • Ziyuan remote sensing Earth resource satellites
  • Beidou navigation satellites
  • retrievable satellites
  • and other types of satellites
CAST. Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST) said some of the satellites -- such as a polar-orbiting Sun-synchronous weather satellite FY-1D and the oceanorgaphic satellite Haiyang-1 -- are being constructed, while others are in planning. a direct-broadcasting satellite (DBS) is being prepared for launch in 2004. That satellite would provide television broadcasts, and educational and information transmissions, as well as other services to the vast expanse of western China.

Chinese FY-1 weather satellite
Chinese FY-1 weather satellite
Weather satellites. China's National Satellite Meteorological Center (NSMC)said the nation plans to launch six more Fengyun (FY) meteorological satellites from 2002-2007 before the Olympiad in 2008, according to the Beijing Evening Post.

Fengyun means "Wind and Cloud." The first of the six would be the polar-orbiting Sun-synchronous Fengyun-1D (FY-1D) to be launched in 2002 on a Changzheng-4 (Long March 4) rocket. Then, a geostationary weather satellite, FY-2C, would be launched in 2003.

The FY-3 series would be the next generation of polar-orbiting Sun-synchronous weather satellites. FY-3A would be launched in 2004 with FY-3B and FY-2D in 2006, and FY-3C in 2008. These satellites would be designed to work two to three years in space.

NSMC is a scientific research and operational facility affiliated with the China Meteorological Administration (CMA). It receives, processes and distributes satellite weather data to users.

The new satellites would forecast conditions and monitor bad weather around the clock, particularly convective rainstorms, thunderstorms and hailstorms. They also would monitor developing sandstorms as well as air quality and provide early warnings. The satellites launched in 2006 and 2008 would help forecasters predict weather for the Olympics.

Meteorological satellites are important not only in meteorology, but als in oceanography, agriculture, forestry, hydrology, aviation, navigation, environmental protection and national defense. They contribute to a national economy and to preventing and mitigating disasters.

Communications satellites. China refers to its communications satellites as Dongfanghong (DFH). Dongfanghong means "East Is Red." China's next generation of large communications satellites will carry C-, Ku-, Ka- and L-band transponders. That increased capacity will help the nation meet a growing demand for educational and commercial television broadcasts, stationary and mobile telecommunications, and data, voice and video transmissions for businesses.

CAST artist concept of Chinese HY-1 oceanographic satellite
Chinese HY-1 oceanographic satellite
in CAST artist concept
Oceanography satellites. China's Haiyang (HY-1 and HY-2) oceanographic microsatellites will carry radar altimeters, microwave scatterometers, ocean color scanners, and multichannel microwave radiometers for realtime views of oceans and coastal zones for biological resources, pollution monitoring and prevention, and monitoring of estuaries, bays and navigation routes. Haiyang means "Ocean."

The two satellites are to be launched on Changzheng-4 (Long March 4) rockets to 500-mile-high circular Sun-synchronous orbits, crossing the equator near noon local time, and passing over places on earth every 2 to 3 days.

Seed breeding satellites. Chinese scientists claim that seeds exposed to cosmic radiation yield superior quality produce. They would like to cultivate seedlings in space, then grow them in the climate of western China to help develop agriculture there. China's first satellite dedicated to seed breeding may fly in 2003. The satellite would house a variety of seeds and expose them to radiation before returning them to Earth.

Remote sensing satellites. China calls its remote sensing Earth resource satellites Ziyuan (ZY). Ziyuan means "Resource." First in the series was the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite (CBERS-1 or ZY-1). Later models will be able to take higher resolution photos and work longer in space. Scientists plan to use the ZY satellites to survey national resources, monitor crop growth and yields, watch for disasters and environment pollution, and evaluate project sites. They are used for city planning, surveying and cartography.

Microgravity satellites. Retrievable satellites are used to conduct experiments in space life science, space environment, and space materials and new technologies. China refers to its science exploration satellites as Shijian (SJ). Shijian means "Practice."

Art concept of Double Star satellite
Chinese Double Star
artist concept
Double Star Satellite. China, in a project coordinated with the European Space Agency, will launch in 2003 a pair of Double Star Project (DSP) satellites to study the effects of the Sun on Earth's environment.

Ten European instruments will be inside each of the two Chinese Double Star spacecraft, which will complement ESA's four Cluster spacecraft already in space. An additional eight science experiments will be provided by Chinese institutes.

One of the Chinese satellites will fly an equatorial orbit. The other will be in a polar orbit. They will make observations of the magnetosphere.

The ten European instruments in Double Star are identical to those aboard the four Cluster satellites. The Chinese and European scientists hope all six satellites will be operational at the same time so they can coordinate data received from Cluster and Double Star. Studies with similar instruments are expected to increase the scientific return.

The equatorial satellite (DSP-1) will be launched on a Changzheng-2C (Long March 2C) rocket from Xichang in south Sichuan province, probably in June 2003. Six months later, another Changzheng-2C would ferry the polar satellite (DSP-2) from Taiyuan in the Shanxi province west of Beijing.

Astronomy satellites. China also plans to launch a Space Solar Telescope. The one-meter aperture telescope would be sent to a Sun-synchronous polar orbit in 2005 to observe phenomena on the Sun in daytime.

Environmental satellites. China National Space Administration (CNSA) -- China's space agency -- is planning a constellation of four optical and four synthetic aperture radar (SAR) microsatellites to carry out round-the-clock, all-weather surveillance of the environment and disasters.

Search and rescue satellites. Two optical satellites and one synthetic aperture radar (SAR) microsatellite would be launched. They would fly over a place on the ground every 32 hours.

Navigation satellites. China also has its Beidou Navigation Test Satellites (BNTS). Beidou means "Northern Dipper," a reference to the celestial constellation.

Chinese astronauts. China calls its manned spacecraft Shenzhou, which means "Magic Vessel" or "Divine Vessel." Its astronauts are "yuhangyuans." Elsewhere, they sometimes are referred to as "taikonauts." The nation is conducting a series of unmanned test flights of Shenzhou capsules on CZ-2F (Long March 2F) rockets.

A monkey, dog, rabbit and snails were sent into orbit aboard the second unpiloted Shenzhou flight. If the test flights go well, the first manned flight might come late in 2002 or early in 2003.    [ more about the astronauts ]

Chinese lunar probe. China plans to explore the Moon, the official Xinhua News Agency said in 2001, quoting the head of the Chinese National Space Administration.

The nation would build a probe to be launched on a Long March rocket. Lunar exploration would allow China to Ñstruggle for a more important place in the world space science field and raise our deep space exploration technology to a higher standard,æ according to Xinhua. Lunar exploration also would have an Ñimmeasurable usefulness to raising national prestige and inspiring the nationalistic spirit,æ Xinhua said.

China also is planning to send a man to the Moon, according to the state-run newspaper China Daily in 2001.

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:


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