China Unveils Ambitious Space Plans at National Space Symposium
China is celebrating its 50th anniversary of space progress this year, but also laying out a sweeping plan for lofting Earth orbiting satellites for a multitude of duties, expanding its human spaceflight abilities, and carrying out a multi-step program of lunar exploration.
Luo Ge, Vice Administrator, China National Space Administration, spoke here today at the 22nd National Space Symposium (NSS).
"Generally speaking, in the coming five to eight years we will be launching about 100 satellites," Luo told a standing room only audience here. Space technology is making its contribution to the economic and social development in China, he said.
Luo outlined an expansive roster of satellite projects, building upon 5 different operational systems already in service: telecommunications, meteorological, Earth remote sensing, as well as recoverable satellites and technology demonstration spacecraft.
Over the years, Luo explained, China has developed a series of 12 launch vehicles to satisfy different demands. Access to space is a priority, he said, with work now underway on a new generation booster-- a non-toxic, non-pollution and highly reliable launch vehicle, he said, able to toss 25 metric tons into low Earth orbit and 15 metric tons into geostationary orbit.
"We have achieved all technical breakthroughs ... by the year 2011 we'll be launching the first launch vehicle," Luo said.
In the human spaceflight arena, China has also made stunning achievements, Luo explained. In 1999-2002, four unpiloted spaceships were launched by China, followed in October 2003 by its first piloted mission, Shenzhou 5. "That was a historic breakthrough for China," he added.
"We have become the third country capable of developing a spaceship by itself and launching our own astronauts into orbit and safely recover them," Luo said. In October 2005 a two-person spacecraft rocketed into Earth orbit, achieving the first "attended space lab tests," he said.
Luo said that, based on success in the manned mission area, they intend to establish an orbiting space lab by 2015. Leading up to this effort, he added, space walking skills by Chinese astronauts are to be honed, as will be the ability of space docking.
In the area of human spaceflight, Luo noted several times that China is open to the possibility for international cooperation.
Lunar robotic plans
China has drafted a multi-step program for lunar exploration.
Next year, the country's first lunar orbiter/fly mission is to fly, Luo said. By 2012, China space planners will be landing a rover on the Moon surface. In 2017, that country's lunar exploration plans call for robotic lunar sample return missions.
"We call these three stages the first step of our lunar exploration," Luo explained. "The first step will be done purely robotically ... with unmanned missions."
And in the future, Luo stated, "China will also consider the possibility of manned mission to the Moon."
But by far the most extensive element of China's space plans is within the arena of Earth orbiting satellites - from oceanographic, navigation, and telecommunications satellite systems to constellations of Earth observing and disaster mitigation spacecraft - Luo outlined an impressive cadre of upcoming missions. Furthermore, in-space testing of high-tech components is also slated.
China's focus, Luo emphasized, is on conversion of space technology to a variety of applications to further the social and economic development of the nation. Commercialization of space products is also a priority.
In terms of partnerships, China is working with the European Space Agency, Brazil, Russia, as well as a number of Asian-Pacific countries, Luo said. While moving forward on their national efforts, China is also counting on extensive international cooperation, he said.
China's ambitious space program was clearly an eye-opener at the NSS gathering.
"Man oh man ... they're not kidding around," said one NSS attendee after hearing Luo's review of China's past and future space intentions
"I don't regard it as a threat...I regard it as a challenge," said former Congressman and National Space Symposium leader, Robert Walker, in an earlier interview with SPACE.com. "I think the Chinese have a very ambitious space program ... that they are doing for reasons of national prestige."