China Lays Out Ambitions for Human Spaceflight, Lunar Exploration

China's Tiangong-1 space laboratory with a Shenzhou spacecraft approaching it. (Credit: CNSA)

The Chinese government has issued a white paper outlining its space plans for the next five years. Highlights include:

  • sending the Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft to “achieve unmanned or manned rendezvous and docking” with the Tiangong-1 space station;*
  • launching space laboratories, human spacecraft and space freighters into orbit;
  • making major breakthroughs in key space station technologies;
  • conducting studies on a preliminary plan for landing astronauts on the moon;
  • launching orbiters, landers, rovers and sample return missions to the moon;
  • developing new launch vehicles, including one capable of putting 25 metric tons of cargo into low Earth orbit;
  • completing construction of the Hainan space launch site and making it operational; and
  • strengthening its work on space debris monitoring and mitigation.

* I had previously thought that the next two Shenzhou missions (9 and 10) would have crews, but the white paper indicates that at least one of the flights might be automated. The automated Shenhou-8 docking mission appeared — publicly, at least — to have gone off without a hitch, so I’m not sure why they would need to repeat the flight. Curious.

Excerpts from the white paper follow after the break. I have rearranged the order of the subjects covered to place the most interesting material at the top, but I have not altered any of the text.

China’s Space Activities in 2011
Chinese Government White Paper

III. Major Tasks for the Next Five Years

Human Spaceflight

A taikonaut emerges from China's Shenzhou 7 spacecraft after a successful orbital flight

China will push forward human spaceflight projects and make new technological breakthroughs, creating a foundation for future human spaceflight.

It will launch the Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spaceships and achieve unmanned or manned rendezvous and docking with the in-orbit Tiangong-1 vehicle.

China will launch space laboratories, manned spaceship and space freighters; make breakthroughs in and master space station key technologies, including astronauts’ medium-term stay, regenerative life support and propellant refueling; conduct space applications to a certain extent and make technological preparations for the construction of space stations.

China will conduct studies on the preliminary plan for a human lunar landing.

Deep-space Exploration

China carries out deep-space exploration in stages, with limited goals.

Based on the idea of “three steps” — orbiting, landing and returning — for continuing lunar probe projects, China will launch orbiters for lunar soft landing, roving and surveying to implement the second stage of lunar exploration. In the third stage, China will start to conduct sampling the moon’s surface matters and get those samples back to Earth.

China will conduct special project demonstration in deep-space exploration, and push forward its exploration of planets, asteroids and the sun of the solar system.

Space Science

China will strengthen the development of its space science research system, upgrade the quality of space science research, and enhance popularization of space science knowledge in the whole nation.

By the implementation of lunar exploration projects, China will make in-situ analyses, morphological and structural surveys of the lunar surface in landing and roving areas, conduct environmental surveys of the lunar surface and make moon-based astronomical observations.

By using spacecraft, China will study the properties of black holes and physical laws under extreme conditions, explore properties of dark matter particles, and test basic theories of quantum mechanics. It will also conduct scientific experiments on microgravity and space life science, explore and forecast the space environment and study their effects.

Space Transportation System

China will build a stronger space transportation system, keep improving its launch vehicle series, and enhance their capabilities of entering space.

China's Long March family of rockets. Credit: Jirka Dlouhy

It will enhance the reliability and adaptability of launch vehicles in service, and develop new-generation launch vehicles and their upper stages, implement the first flight of the Long March-5, Long March-6 and Long March-7 launch vehicles. The Long March-5 will use non-toxic and pollution-free propellant, and will be capable of placing 25 tons of payload into the near-Earth orbit, or placing 14 tons of payload into the GEO orbit. The Long March-6 will be a new type of high-speed response launch vehicle, which will be capable of placing not less than 1 ton of payload into a sun-synchronous orbit at a height of 700 km. The Long March-7 will be capable of placing 5.5 tons of payload into a sun-synchronous orbit at a height of 700 km.

It will conduct special demonstrations and pre-research on key technologies for heavy-lift launch vehicles.

Space Launch Sites

China will enhance the reliability and automation level of launch site facilities and equipment, strengthen the comprehensive capability of launch of spacecraft, and satisfy the launch demands. It will also complete the construction of the Hainan space launch site and put it into service.

Space Debris

China will continue to strengthen its work on space debris monitoring and mitigation and its work on spacecraft protection.

China will develop technologies for monitoring space debris and pre-warning of collision, and begin monitoring space debris and small near-Earth celestial bodies and collision pre-warning work. It will set up a design and assess system of space debris mitigation, and take measures to reduce space debris left by post-task spacecraft and launch vehicles. It will experiment with digital simulation of space debris collisions, and build a system to protect spacecraft from space debris.

Man-made Earth Satellites

China will build a space infrastructure frame composed of Earth observation satellites, communications and broadcasting satellites, plus navigation and positioning satellites, and will develop a preliminary long-term, sustained and stable service capability. China will develop new types of scientific satellites and technological test satellites.

1) Earth observation satellites

China will improve its present meteorological, oceanic, and resource satellite series and its small satellites constellation for environmental and disaster monitoring and forecasting. It aims at developing and launching new-generation GEO meteorological satellites, stereo mapping satellites, radar satellites for environment and disaster monitoring, electromagnetic monitoring test satellites, and other new-type Earth observation satellites. It will work to make breakthroughs in key technologies for interferometric synthetic-aperture radar and gravitational field measurement satellites. It will initiate a high-resolution Earth observation system as an important scientific and technological project and establish on the whole a stable all-weather, 24-hour, multi-spectral, various-resolution Earth observation system.

2) Communications and broadcasting satellites

China will improve satellites for fixed communications services, television and radio service satellites and data relay satellites; develop satellites for mobile communication service; and develop a platform of higher capacity and higher power for new-generation GEO communications and broadcasting satellites.

3) Navigation and positioning satellites

Based on “three-step” development plan – from experimental system to regional system and then to global system, China will continue building its Beidou satellite navigation system, implementing a regional Beidou satellite navigation system before 2012, whose navigation and positioning, timing and short-message services will cover the Asia-Pacific region. China aims at completing the global Beidou satellite navigation system by 2020, comprising five GEO satellites and 30 non-GEO satellites.

4) Scientific satellites and technological test satellites

China will develop and launch a Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope satellite, Shijian-9 new technology test satellite, and returnable satellites. It will begin to implement projects of quantum science test satellite and dark matter probing satellite.

Space Applications

China will further improve its satellite application and service system, expand satellites application scope, and promote the national new strategic industries, to meet demands of national economic and social development.

1) Applications of Earth observation satellites

China will improve its ground facilities for receiving, processing, distributing and applying satellite data, and will strengthen the development of calibration fields and other facilities. It will improve the sharing and comprehensive application of data retrieved from Earth observation satellites, make more self-obtained space data, and guide social resources to actively develop market-oriented data application services. It will implement application demonstration projects, and promote the wide utilization and industrialization of Earth observation satellites.

2) Applications of communications and broadcasting satellites

China will strengthen the applications of communications and broadcasting satellites in public service and major industries of the national economy. It plans to expand value-added business in the satellite communication field, further commercialize satellite communication, and expand the industrial scale of the application of communications and broadcasting satellites.

3) Applications of navigation and positioning satellites

China will build and improve ground TT&C segments and develop a system for monitoring and assessing performance of the global satellite navigation system, strengthen technological research, product development and standardization system of navigation and positioning satellites, enhance application level, promote position-based services, expand the industrial scope, and focus on promoting further use of the Beidou satellite navigation system in various fields of China’s national economy.

Space TT&C

China will improve its space TT&C network, build deep-space TT&C stations, develop advanced TT&C technologies, and enhance its TT&C capabilities in all respects to satisfy the demands for remote TT&C.

To read the entire white paper, click here.