Chinese Astronauts Return to Earth After Six Months in Space

Shenzhou-13 lands in the Gobi Desert. (Credit: CASC)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth in their Shenzhou-13 spacecraft on Saturday after spending six months aboard the nation’s first permanent space station.

Zhai Zhigang, Ye Guangfu and Wang Yaping landed in the Gobi Desert after 182 days in space. It was the longest Chinese crewed mission to date, nearly doubling the three months the crew of Shezhou-12 spent aboard the space station launched last April.

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Launch 2020: China’s Space Program Continued to Surge with a Number of Firsts

Long March 3B lifts off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center. (Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Group)

China’s surging space program showed no sign of slowing down last year as it tied its own launch record and moved ahead with ambitious space missions and a set of new launchers.

China compiled a record of 35 successes and four failures in 2020. That matched the number of launch attempts made in 2018, a year that saw 38 successes and a single failure.

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Launch 2020: A Busy Year Filled with Firsts in the Face of COVID-19 Pandemic

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

SpaceX dominated, China surged and Russia had another clean sheet as American astronauts flew from U.S. soil again in a year of firsts.

First in a series

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a very busy launch year with a number of firsts in both human and robotic exploration. A total of 114 orbital launches were attempted, with 104 successes and 10 failures. It was the same number of launches that were conducted in 2018, with that year seeing 111 successes, two failures and one partial failure.

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Out of Control Chinese Rocket Threatens to Scatter Debris Over Populated Area

Long March 5B launches the Tianhe space station core module on April 29, 2021. (Credit: CASC)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Until the advent of the reusable Falcon 9, most first stages of rockets fell into the ocean, on the lightly populated steppes of Kazakhstan (Russian launches from Baikonur), or crashed beside and even into rural villages, throwing up huge clouds of toxic propellants in the process (Chinese launches).

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Fun with Figures: The Rise and Fall of the Commercial Proton Booster

Proton on launch pad (Credit: ILS)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Russia recently marked the 25th anniversary of the entry of the Proton rocket into the international commercial marketplace. On April 8, 1996, a Proton-K booster with a DM3 upper stage launched the Astra 1F geosynchronous communications satellite built by U.S.-based Hughes for Luxembourg’s SES from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

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China’s Long March 8 Rocket Makes Successful Debut in Step Toward Reusability

Long March 8 launches for the first time on Dec. 22, 2020. (Credit: CNSA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

China’s newest booster, Long March 8, successfully placed five satellites into sun-synchronous orbit on Tuesday from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in a step toward partial reusability.

The medium-lift booster blasted off at 12:37 p.m. local time from Hainan island carrying the classified XJY-7 remote sensing technology test satellite and four smaller payloads.

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China Launches Chang’e-5 Lunar Sample Return Mission

Long March 5 launches the Chang’e-5 mission to the moon. (Credit: CNSA)

BEIJING (CNSA PR) — At 4:30 on November 24th, China used the Long March 5 carrier rocket to successfully launch the lunar exploration project Chang’e-5 probe at the Wenchang Space Launch Site in China.

After the rocket flew for about 2,200 seconds, the probe was successfully sent into the scheduled trajectory, starting China’s first return journey from sampling of extraterrestrial objects.

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China Launches Tianwen-1 Mission to Mars

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A Long March 5 booster roared off the launch pad from Wenchang on Thursday morning, sending an orbiter, lander and rover to Mars in China’s most ambitious robotic space mission to date.

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Ambitious Chinese Mars Mission Includes Orbiter, Rover

Tianwen-1 spacecraft (Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In its most ambitious robotic space mission to date, China will launch an orbiter, lander and rover to Mars later this week.

A Long March 5 booster is set to launch the Tianwen-1 mission from the Wenchang spaceport on Thursday, July 23.

Tianwen-1 is the first Mars mission that China has attempted on its own. The Chinese Yinghuo-1 sub-satellite was launched aboard Russia’s Phobos-Grunt mission in November 2011. However, the ambitious mission to the martian moon never left Earth orbit.

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Chinese Next-Gen Spacecraft Lands After Orbital Flight

A Chinese next-generation crewed spacecraft landed on Friday after a nearly three-day automated flight in Earth orbit.

Pictures from Chinese media showed the capsule descending under three parachutes. The vehicle had made a high-speed reentry from a final orbit of 523 x 6,278 km (325 x 3,901 miles) to simulate a return from deep space.

The new spacecraft, which will carry up to six astronauts, is intended to replace the three-seat Shenzhou spaceship now in use. China will use the new vehicle for operations in Earth and lunar orbit.

A Long March 5B launched the spacecraft into Earth orbit on Tuesday from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island. It was the maiden flight of Long March 5 variant, which will be used to launch elements of China’s first permanent space station next year.

Long March 5B has a core stage with four strap-on boosters. It lacks the upper stage of the Long March 5, which is used to send communications satellites to geosynchronous orbit and probes to the moon and planets.

Chinese Long March 5B Launches Next-Gen Crew Vehicle

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In a crucial step forward for China’s human and robotic spaceflight programs, a Long March 5B booster conducted its maiden flight on Tuesday carrying a prototype of the nation’s next-generation crewed spacecraft.

China’s most powerful rocket lifted off at 1000 GMT (6 p.m. local time) from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island. Chinese media have reported the launch from the nation’s southern spaceport was successful.

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Long March 5B Booster Arrives in Wenchang for First Flight in Mid-April

Long March 5 on the launch pad. (Credit: China National Space Administration)

BEIJING, February 7, 2020 (CASC PR) — Only one month after the successful launch of the Long March 5 and Long March 3 rockets, another member of the Long March 5 rocket family, developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), started its first journey.

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Video: Long March 5’s YF-77 Engine Hot Fire

Video Caption: The YF-77 rocket engine for the Long March-5 Y4 launch vehicle was tested for 100 seconds on CASC’s rocket engine test facility in Beijing, China, on 19 January 2020. Wang Shuguang, director of engine test, presented the facility and Wang Weibin, deputy chief designer of the Long March-5 rockets, explained the test. YF-77 is China’s first cryogenic rocket engine that burns liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as fuel. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) is the main contractor for the China’s space program.

Credit: China Central Television (CCTV)

Long March 5 Returns to Flight

China’s Long March 5 returned to flight on Friday after being ground for 2.5 years, placing an experimental communications satellite into orbit and seeming to pave the way for a series of ambitious human and science missions.

The nation’s most powerful launch vehicle lifted off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center with the Shijian 20 satellite. Chinese media said the mission was successful in placing the spacecraft into a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

It was the third launch of Long March 5, and the first since an in-flight failure on July 2, 2017. The booster successfully placed the Shijian 17 satellite into orbit on its maiden flight in November 2016.

A successful launch was crucial for for a number of future launches. China plans to launch the Mars Global Remote Sensing Orbiter and a small surface rover next July.

The Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission will follow during the fourth quarter of 2020. Other missions planned through 2024 include:

  • test flight of a next generation crew vehicle;
  • modules of China’s first permanent space station beginning in 2021;
  • Chang’e-6 lunar sample return;
  • Jun Tian space telescope; and,
  • Solar Polar Orbit Telescope.

Long March 5 is designed to launch payloads weighing 25,000 kg into low Earth orbit, 14,000 kg into geosynchronous transfer orbit and 8,200 kg into trans-lunar injection.

Wenchang is China’s newest spaceport and the only one of the four launch centers located on the coastline.

China Launch Surge Left U.S., Russia Behind in 2018

Long March 2F rocket in flight carrying Shenzhou-11. (Credit: CCTV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The year 2018 was the busiest one for launches in decades. There were a total of 111 completely successful launches out of 114 attempts. It was the highest total since 1990, when 124 launches were conducted.

China set a new record for launches in 2018. The nation launched 39 times with 38 successes in a year that saw a private Chinese company fail in the country’s first ever orbital launch attempt.

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