Chinese space program
Chinese space program
The space program of the People's Republic of China is about the activities in outer space conducted and directed by the People's Republic of China. It involves the capacity to enter and return from space and ability to engage in space exploration, utilization and governance.
The technological roots of the Chinese space program trace back to the 1950s, when, with the help of the newly allied Soviet Union, China began development of its first ballistic missile and rocket programs in response to the perceived American (and, later, Soviet) threats. Driven by the successes of Soviet Sputnik 1 and American Explorer 1 satellite launches in 1957 and 1958 respectively, China would launch its first satellite, Dong Fang Hong 1 in April 1970 aboard a Long March 1 rocket making it the fifth nation to place a satellite in orbit.
After half a century of development, China today has one of the most active space programs in the world. With space launch capability provided by the Long March rocket family and four spaceports (Jiuquan, Taiyuan, Xichang, Wenchang) within it border, China conducts either the highest or the second highest number of orbital launches each year. It operates a satellite fleet consisting of a large number of communications, navigation, remote sensing and scientific research satellites. Its range of activities have expanded from low Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars.
China is also one of the three countries with independent human spaceflight capability.
Currently, most of the space activities by China are managed by the China National Space Administration (CNSA). Major programs include China Manned Space Program, BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, Chinese Lunar Exploration Program, Gaofen Observation and Planetary Exploration of China.
In recent years, China has conducted a considerable amount of world-class space missions, including Chang'e-3, Chang'e-4, Chang'e-5, Tianwen-1 and Tiangong Space Station. In the near future, China is steadily pursuing advanced projects like crewed missions to the Moon, space telescope, counterspace capabilities, quantum communications, orbiter and sample-return missions to Mars, and exploration missions throughout the Solar System and deep space.
Mission and principles
According to the white paper China's Space Program: A 2021 Perspective released by the Chinese government in 2022, the mission of China's space program is described as:
• To explore outer space to expand humanity's understanding of the earth and the cosmos;
• To facilitate global consensus on our shared responsibility in utilizing outer space for peaceful purposes and safeguarding its security for the benefit of all humanity;
• To meet the demands of economic, scientific and technological development, national security and social progress;
• To raise the scientific and cultural levels of the Chinese people, protect China's national rights and interests, and build up its overall strength.
The white paper also stated the principles of China's space program to ensure a high-quality space industry, which is subject to and serves the overall national strategy:
• Innovation-driven development
• Coordination and efficiency
• For peaceful purposes
• Cooperation and sharing
Early years (1950s to mid-1970s)
Qian Xuesen, the forefather of Chinese space program
The space program of China began in the form of missile research since the 1950s. After its birth in 1949, the newly founded People's Republic of China were in pursuit of missile technology to build up the nation's defense for the Cold War while most of
Its industry were destroyed or heavily damaged during the decade-long wars. In 1955, Qian Xuesen , the world-class rocketry scientist, returned to China from the United States. In 1956, Qian submitted a proposal for the development of China's missile program, which was approved in just a few months. On October 8, China's first missile research institute, the Fifth Research Academy under the Ministry of National Defense, was established with less than 200 staff, most of which were recruited by Qian. The event was later recognized as the birth of China's space program.
To fully utilize all available resources, China kick-started its missile development by manufacturing a licensed copy of two Soviet R-2 missiles, which were secretly shipped to China in December 1957 as part of the cooperative technology transfer program between the Soviet Union and China.
The Chinese version of the missile was given a code name "1059" with the expectation of being launched in 1959. But the target date was soon postponed due to various technical difficulties.
Meanwhile, China started constructing its first missile test site in the Gobi desert of Inner Mongolia, which later became the famous Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center , China's first spaceport.
After the launch of mankind's first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957, Mao Zedong decided during the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party on May 17, 1958, to make China an equal with the superpowers (Chinese: "我们也要搞人造卫星"; lit. 'We too need satellites'), by
Adopting Project 581 with the objective of placing a satellite in orbit by 1959 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the PRC's founding.
This goal was soon proven to be unrealistic and later adjusted to the development of sounding rockets first.
Mao Zedong inspecting a T-7M rocket after its successful launch
The first achievement of the program was the launch of T-7M, a sounding rocket that eventually reached the height of 8 km on February 19, 1960. It was the first rocket developed by Chinese engineers.
The success was praised by Mao Zedong as a good beginning of an indigenous Chinese rocket development.
However, due to ideological differences in Marxism, the friendly relationship between the Soviet Union and China soon turned to confrontation. As a consequence, all Soviet technological assistance was abruptly withdrawn after the 1960 Sino-Soviet split, and Chinese scientists continued on the program with extremely limited resources and knowledge.
It was under this harsh condition that China successfully launched the first "missile 1059", fueled by alcohol and liquid oxygen, on December 5, 1960, marking a successful imitation of Soviet missile. The missile 1059 was later renamed as Dongfeng.