November 25, 2013

China's Space Achievements - Passing US's Manned Program

China's space program to 2012

Shenzhou 9 (click to enlarge) was a 3 person spacecraft launched 16 June 2012 of China's  Shenzhou program. Shenzhou 9 was the second spacecraft and first manned spacecraft to dock with China's Tiangong 1 space station on 18 June 2012. The Shenzhou 9 returned to Earth 29 June 2012. The mission's crew included the first Chinese female astronaut, Liu Yang.
Great video of Shenzhou 10's launch and initial space flight on 11 June 2013, to again dock with the Tiangong 1 space station. Shenzhou means Divine or Magic Craft.

China's Long March 2F rocket used to launch the 2 latest Shenzhou (9 and 10) manned missions to the Tiangon 1.  China is planning several space rockets with a heavier payload than the Long March 2F's 8,400 kgs (to LEO) including the Long March 5 with a planned payload of 25,000 kgs (to LEO). 

On November 7, 2013 Australia's Sydney Morning Herald carried an article originally in the Houston Chronicle. The Houston Chronicle is a rare news outlet interested in China's space achievements because Houston is the home of NASA's large Mission Control organisation and thus Houston has a big economic and intellectual stake in space developments.

It is remarkable how news of China's space achievements have been ignored in almost all of the Western media over the years. Westerners are simply unaware how China has progressed.

The Sydney Morning Herald  article, at follows:

"Chinese may be on track to pass US in space"

China has the opportunity in coming years to surpass the United States in space programs, forcing the government to step up NASA funding to retain a leadership position, partner with the Chinese or risk falling behind, according to space policy experts.

Russia is the other country that currently has the capacity to launch humans into space. Its space program, however, reliant upon technology designed nearly five decades ago, is getting by on past momentum. China's [manned Shenzhou] space program, by contrast, is in ascendance.

China launched its first astronaut, Yang Liwei [Shenzhou 5 in 2003] , into space a decade ago. Since then it has made steady progress, from conducting space walks to launching a small laboratory. By 2020, China plans to complete construction of its own [full sized]  space station.

While that may seem modest compared to NASA's overall accomplishments, they signal an ambitious program that is advancing rather than regressing, space experts say.

China has provided a stable budget and ample funding for its space goals, while NASA has been tasked with large expectations in human exploration without commensurate resources.

In a widely read article in Foreign Policy earlier this year, Berry College international studies professor John Hickman argued that today's modest achievements are setting the stage a decade from now for China to be the dominant player in human space exploration. [see Hickman's article at ]

"Shift the focus to the present and they are merely unsettling," Mr Hickman wrote of China's efforts in space. "But look to the future, and there are unmistakable warning signs that China may surpass the United States and Russia to become the world's pre-eminent space-faring power."

'Makes me cringe'

Leroy Chiao, a former astronaut who commanded the International Space Station, says critics who dismiss China's advancements as "been there, done that" are missing the point.

"It really makes me cringe when you have people dismiss what they're doing by saying they're only doing what we did 50 years ago," Mr Chiao said. "We [the US] can't go to the moon right now. We [the US] can't even launch our own astronauts right now. We do have plans, but everyone knows the budgets we have in this country don't support those spaceflight plans."

In some areas, China has already surpassed the United States.

During 2011 and 2012, China conducted four launches of commercial satellites into space, whereas the United States performed just two.

Main competitor

At a recent space conference, Adam Harris, a vice president of SpaceX, the private US rocket company, identified China as the company's main competitor for future launch business.

"The Chinese government is certainly committed to furthering their program," said Mr Harris, according to the website "They've announced moon missions, they've announced further activities, and they are doing it within their country."

Among space policy experts, two of the most critical questions about China's space program concern the extent to which NASA will be allowed in coming years to partner with China and whether future Chinese gains in space will prod the United States to invest more in its own program.

By US law, NASA is prohibited from working with China's space program, and other US regulations prevent any satellite that includes US-made components from launching on Chinese rockets.

The chief obstacle to NASA collaboration with China is US Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican, who chairs the House subcommittee overseeing the space agency's budget. Mr Wolf's opposition is rooted to China's human rights violations.

Could be left behind

But other countries, including Russia and NASA's European partners in the International Space Station, have expressed a willingness to work with China. They wanted to see China brought in as a space station partner. And it appears likely that astronauts from both Russia and Europe will fly to China's station in the 2020s.

Mr Chiao said he's concerned about a scenario in which the United States stops flying its space station [the International Space Station (ISS)] in 2020, and the international partners transfer their funds and support to the Chinese station.

[see "Logsdon told that he did not think it likely that either Japan or Europe have any enthusiasm to pony up money for the ISS after 2020....Looming in the background of the space station's future beyond 2020 is talk by Russia of starting a second-generation space station on its own, Logsdon said.
"And of course you have the Chinese station in the same time period," he added. China has launched two crews to its first space laboratory module, Tiangong 1, and plans to construct a 60-ton space station by 2020.]

If that scenario plays out, the United States could find itself locked out of space exploration while the world's other major powers are working and cooperating in space.

"If we can work with the Russians, who were our sworn enemies during the Cold War, why can't we work with the Chinese?" Mr Chiao asked. "We've been working with the Russians since the mid-1990s and there haven't been any instances of inappropriate technology transfer that I'm aware of."

A 'Sputnik moment'?

There's also the question of whether Chinese ambitions in space might push US lawmakers to give NASA a budget that allows it to meet greater spaceflight challenges.

Although the Chinese government has not set a firm time line, it has long-term plans to develop its line of Long March rockets from smaller to larger sizes such that a human mission to the moon might become feasible by 2025 or 2030.

"China plans to put their men on the moon in 2025," said Michio Kaku, a City University of New York physicist and noted science communicator. "For America, that's going to be a shock. A real wake-up call. We're going to have another 'Sputnik moment' when the Chinese put the flag on the moon."

However, when NASA has played the China card in the past to drum up more funding from lawmakers, it hasn't worked.

Mike Griffin, the space agency's administrator from 2005 to 2009, used to invoke the possibility of Chinese moon landings when seeking congressional support to fund the Constellation Program [a mercifully cancelled (larger than Apollo) US program to send astronauts to the ISS, then the Moon, then Mars], which would have returned NASA astronauts to the Moon.

President Barack Obama cancelled Constellation in 2010. Its replacement, the under-funded Space Launch System, doesn't have a destination.

"NASA in the past has tried to play up China as a competitor in space to encourage fuller funding of its human space program," said Jeff Foust, an aerospace analyst with the Futron Corporation. "It never worked." 

[from Shenzhou 10, a manned spaceflight of China's Shenzhou program, was launched on 11 June 2013. It was China's fifth manned space mission. The mission had a crew of three astronauts: Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping, the second Chinese female astronaut. The Shenzhou spacecraft docked with the Tiangong-1 trial space laboratory module on 13 June 2013 and the astronauts performed physical, technological, and scientific experiments while on board. Shenzhou 10 was the final mission to Tiangong 1 in this portion of the Tiangong program. On 26 June 2013, after a series of successful docking tests, Shenzhou 10 returned to Earth.]



surender kumar said...

Great achievement of China.This mission may interface to the NASA's LADEE mission. read more on China's moon mission

Pete said...

Hi surender kumar

Thanks for the link to the expectation that China's unmanned Moon landing might effect NASA's LADEE mission.

There is also info here