CNSA increases rocket launches
– News of July 10, 2018 –
China will set new records for rocket launches. In January, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced plans to carry out some 40 rocket launches in 2018. For the moment, the pace is being maintained. This high rythm allows China to be present everywhere : Earth observation, satellite navigation system, exploration of the Moon and Mars, manned flights, space station… Moreover, the efforts of the CNSA are supported by a burgeoning private industry : the start-up One Space realized last May the first suborbital shot of one of its rockets, while another Chinese company has just been funded $ 90 million to develop its launcher. Among the multitude of projects that are emerging in China, two projects of the China National Space Administration are strategic : the super heavy launcher Long March 9 (Chang Zheng-9) and the reusable rocket Long March 8 (Chang Zheng-8).
At a conference, a designer revealed that Long March 9 will have a first floor 10 meters in diameter, which is wider than SpaceX’s BFR or NASA’s SLS. This width is comparable with the width of the Saturn 5. In addition, the rocket will be equipped with four boosters with a diameter of 5 meters each. The Long March 9 will have a floor width of 20 meters, for a height of 93 meters. The set will form a total mass of 4000 tons at takeoff and will be powered by engines developing 6000 tons of thrust. This will allow the launcher to place 140 tons of payload in low orbit, 50 tons in transfer orbit to the moon or 44 tons in transfer orbit to Mars. The rocket will be used for a mission to return Martian samples and for manned flights to the Moon. The CNSA is aware of the scope of the project and gives itself until 2030 to make a first flight.
Long March 8 should arrive much faster. This launcher is CNSA’s first attempt to develop a reusable rocket like SpaceX can. Long March 8 is a medium-capacity launcher that will use two powder boosters. The first floor and the two boosters will probably be recovered by landing vertically. Boosters will stay glued to the first floor. Long March 8 could be launched as early as 2021 and will be offered on the international commercial market. Prices proposed by the China National Space Administration should be very low, which would increase even more the launch pace.
China will launch more rockets than Russia as early as 2018
– News of January 16, 2018 –
China is a rising power in all areas. This is also true in the space field. China has an ambitious space program, the scientific part of which bets on the manned space stations, and on lunar exploration. In 2017, China launched 18 orbital rockets, placing it third in the world behind the United States and Russia. But in 2018, China hopes to launch 40 rockets, it will put it ahead of Moscow and perhaps even in front of the United States if SpaceX does not respect the announced pace. In 2018, the Chinese should again use the heavy launcher Long March 5, which had failed during its second flight last summer. Yet it is a very important rocket for China because it is the one which must put in orbit the different modules of the new Chinese space station. It is also the one which must launch the Lunar exploration missions Chang’e.
All these launches are not made by the Chinese government. Like the rest of the planet, China is letting more and more private companies launch their rockets. One of them, LandSpace Technology, is expected to launch its LandSpace-1 rocket for the first time this year. LS-1 should be marketed worldwide. A first launch contract with a Danish company has been signed. LandSpace-1 will have a one-ton capacity in low Earth orbit. But LandSpace is already working on a more powerful rocket capable of competing with Ariane 5 and the Falcon 9. Another important advance for the Chinese, ten satellites of the Beidou constellation should be launched this year. Beidou is the Chinese equivalent of American GPS. By way of comparison, Europe will only launch four satellites of the Galileo constellation during the same period.
The face of the space industry is changing profoundly. For decades, Russians and Americans shared the majority of launches, while Ariane allowed Europe to shine on the commercial front. The proliferation of countries and companies involved in the space sector should lead to a much more competitive and fragmented market in the coming years. Competition often generates innovations.
Chang’e mission will carry potatoes and silkworms on the moon
– News of January 9, 2018 –
The Moon became the center of attention in 2017 when the Trump administration decided to make it a priority of the US space program. But it is not only in the United States of America that the Moon is a target. In recent years, China has also been heavily involved in lunar exploration. Beijing even hopes to one day launch missions inhabited on the Moon. Before to get there, they have to train with robotic missions. China has done a lot of work on this side with the Chang’e missions. The Chinese lunar exploration program Chang’e has already sent two orbiters and a rover to the moon. These missions have all been successful. From June 2018, a fourth mission will send another rover to the hidden side of the Moon. It will be accompanied by an orbiter that will be placed at the L2 Lagrange point of the Earth-Moon system. Chang’e should therefore become the most ambitious Chinese lunar mission yet.
In addition to scientific instruments that will allow it to study the surface of the Moon, the rover will embark a small aluminum cylinder containing seeds and insects. Specifically, the container will contain potatoes, seeds of the plant Arabidopsis, and eggs of silkworms. The goal of the experiment is to set up a simple ecosystem on the surface of the Moon. Seeds and potatoes will emit oxygen through photosynthesis, while silkworms will produce carbon dioxide. The different inhabitants of the cylinder should therefore be able to survive for a while. It will also be an opportunity to observe the behavior of these species in an environment where gravity is low. Many experiments on living things have already been conducted in microgravity in space stations, but the Moon with its gravity equal to 16% of that of the Earth represents a new environment.
The rover will have to cover a region of the Moon that has not yet been visited by any human object. This is the South Pole-Aitken basin, which is the largest impact basin on the Moon. It is also one of the largest basins in the solar system. It is the result of a cataclysmic impact on the surface of the Moon. It is 2500 km in diameter and 13 km deep. It is so huge that we no longer speak of an impact crater but of an impact basin. It is also of particular interest to the scientific community. India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft and then NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have confirmed that this region could harbor vast amounts of icy water, so much so that the South Pole-Aitken basin is considered one of the best possible locations for a lunar base. The fact that the Chinese have chosen this region to carry out their exploration program is logical because the south lunar pole is a place where peaks of eternal light occur. These are geographical points where sunlight shines almost continuously. This represents a great interest for colonization. By installing solar panels, we ensure a stable and sustainable energy supply for a lunar base. Chang’e will take off this year in two parts. First the relay satellite in June, then the lander carrying the rover at the end of the year.
China and France collaborate to create a satellite
– News of November 7, 2017 –
China is opening up to international collaborations. This is still the case with the presentation of the CFOSAT satellite, a Franco-Chinese satellite resulting from the collaboration between CNES and its Chinese counterpart. It is a satellite of climate study that will observe the interactions between the oceans and the Earth’s atmosphere. The two study centers will each design one of the instruments that will equip the satellite, which will be launched next year on a Long March 2 rocket. The satellite is scheduled for a three-year mission.
Beyond the scientific interest of the program, CFOSAT perfectly illustrates the rapprochement of China with international organizations, and with France in particular. In fact, although the satellite was only presented last month, the project started ten years ago. And it’s not the only one of its kind. In April, the European and Chinese space agencies confirmed to discuss the possibility of a common lunar base. ESA hopes to be able to carry out analyzes on the lunar samples that will be brought back by the Chang’e 5 probe, which was postponed until 2019. Finally, the Europeans would be in favor of sending one or two astronauts to the future Chinese space station. But the real question is whether Sino-US collaboration is possible.
Both powers have their eyes on the moon, with manned flight programs under development. But it is currently impossible for China and NASA to collaborate. In 2011, the US Congress passed a decree that formally forbids any collaboration between NASA and China. One can be optimistic and say that nothing prevents a decree from being revoked. For example, the United States of America now cooperates with Russia in the space sector after decades of rivalry. As often, the solution can only come from strong political will.
It will also be interesting to see how Europe will position itself against the ambitious programs of other space agencies. Can it both work on the LOP-G with the United States of America and on a lunar basic project with China, without the two programs being linked ? It sounds absurd and maybe Europe will have to make a choice.
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