Sultan M Hali
THE Chinese State Council recently designated April 24 as Space Day, scheduling country wide annual celebrations. China designated April 24 as Space Day last year to mark the anniversary of the country’s first satellite launch Dongfanghong-1 in 1970. Major celebrations of China’s Space Day will start on April 24 in Xi’an, capital city of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province.
It is heartening to note that as declared at the 18th CPC (Communist Party of China) Congress, the most important achievement in the past 14 years is that PRC (People’s Republic of China) has formed the scientific outlook on development and put it into practice by following the guidance of Marxism, Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory. Observing Space Day with fervor is part of China’s endeavour to inculcate knowledge regarding space technology to its youth.
This year’s celebrations will focus on the applications of space technology in economic and social development. Chinese astronauts and scientists will give talks during the celebrations, and exhibitions will be held in Northwestern Polytechnic University. The exhibitions will showcase the achievements of China’s lunar probe and the BeiDou satellite navigation system. Xi’an is home to more than 200 aerospace research centers and enterprises. Also, there will be over 200 events in other cities in China to celebrate the Space Day. A number of space related activities are planned by China in the next few years. China had already announced that an unmanned probe to Mars will be sent to orbit and land on the Red Planet in 2020. Xu Dazhe, head of the China National Space Administration, confirmed that the central government approved the Mars mission on Jan 11, and 2020 was chosen because it will be a time specifically suitable for a probe to land. The favorable launch window appears every 26 months, so Chinese scientists are carefully planning the mission to make sure the window won’t be missed. The probe will conduct scientific research on the Martian soil, environment, atmosphere and water, opening a new chapter in the country’s deep-space exploration program.
Chinese scientists will face many challenges before they land a probe on Mars because the probe will travel for about nine months before it reaches the Martian orbit, since the closest distance between the Earth and Mars is more than 50 million kilometers. Chinese scientists will have to ensure that the probe’s power system can sustain nine months of spaceflight. Another challenge lies in tracking; monitoring and communicating with the spacecraft, since the probe will operate very far from Earth. Chinese engineers have used the Chang’e 2 lunar probe, which was launched in October 2010 and is still traveling farther into space, to test super-long-distance control and communication technologies.
After sending a probe to Mars in 2020, China plans to explore three asteroids and land on one of them to conduct scientific research, according to a Chinese asteroid research expert. The “China’s Space Activities in 2016″ white paper, issued by the Information Office of the State Council recently, also mentioned asteroid exploration in outlining the major tasks of the country’s space industry in the next five years.
The Purple Mountain Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and members of the expert committee for scientific goal argumentation of deep space exploration in China, who took part in expert discussions on the main scientific goals of China’s deep space exploration in the next two decades have announced that the committee basically decided to conduct expeditions to asteroids and then Jupiter and its moon system after the Mars expedition. The plan envisages flying a probe by an asteroid, to fly side by side with an asteroid for a period, and to land on a third one to conduct sampling analysis on the surface. So far, only the United States and Japan have landed probes on asteroids. Japanese probe Hayabusa 1 landed on the asteroid Itokawa, and brought samples back to Earth.
China will send the Chang’e-5 lunar probe to the moon and bring samples back in 2017. If that mission succeeds, it would mean China, like Japan, would be able to bring back samples from asteroids to study in labs on Earth in the future. Scientists would give priority to detecting near-Earth asteroids to analyze their probability of colliding with Earth. At the same time, they are eager to study the formation and evolution of asteroids, which might shed light on the origins of the solar system, as well as the origins of life and water on Earth. Chinese scientists plan to fly a probe side by side with an asteroid called Apophis for a period to conduct close observation, and land on the asteroid 1996 FG3. The probe is also expected to conduct a fly-by of an asteroid to be selected according to the launch time. The whole mission would last around six years.
Meanwhile, according to the office of China’s manned space program, China’s first cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-1 is to be launched into space between April 20 and 24 this year. Tianzhou-1 is vertically transported to the final launch pad on a Long March-7 rocket. Chinese space scientists and engineers have been engaged in assembling parts and conducting tests ever since the spacecraft arrived in mid-February. They will now move on to working on the integration of gas, electricity and liquid and fuelling the rocket. The Tianzhou-1 cargo ship will carry fuel and experiments to the space laboratory Tiangong-2. The Long March-7 rocket carrying the Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft is currently on the mobile platform, moving from the assembly building to the final launch pad. The task is humungous since it involves the heaviest and largest ever spacecraft built in China, which comprises four big curved rails and the whole apparatus weighs over 1,800 tonnes; presenting the engineers a huge challenge of transporting it in terms of stability and safety.
It must be borne in mind that the Tianzhou-1, with a net weight of 13 tons, can carry a payload of up to 6.5 tons. If the launch is successful, China will have surpassed Europe and Japan in terms of cargo load ratio. The cargo spacecraft, which will be launched within the next days, is an essential step in China’s plan to establish a permanent space station around the year 2022 and a befitting tribute to the Space Day celebrations.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.