How China is taking on the world in space

This chart shows a recent survey of
satellites and space junk in low-earthorbits listed by of a country
responsible for creating it the thirdcountry might be a surprise to you,
China has left almost as much debris asAmerica and Russia despite having a much shorter history in space in fact most ofthis was from just one missile test in
2007 when China fired a kinetic killvehicle that one of its own retired
weather satellites. The missile hit at arelative speed of about 8 km/s
shattering the satellite into more than900 large pieces and almost 35,000 small
objects, many of these will remain inorbit for decades or even centuries. Now
the last time I mentioned China’s 2007missile test I got some flak in the
comments for picking on Chinaso yes other nations also have done
similar things and its legacy of spacejunk is typical of early missions in
many national space programs. In the I950’s global powers faced the
likelihood that below Earth orbit wouldbecome the new battleground overhead and
control of that space will be a decidingfactor in future wars. In 1958
Chairman Mao tse-tung announced a planto develop a space launch capability
from a country’s ballistic missileprogram. However when relations between theSoviet Union and China cooled in the
late 1950s and early 60s the Russiantechnical assistance also went away.
Although the Chinese economy grew slowlyin the 60s and 70s they did become the
fifth nation to independently developand launch their own satellite system
with the long march one rocket in April1970. Over the next two decades
plans for manned space flight were puton hold but the space launches continued
to deploy mostly Chinese satellites infact today there have been 258 launches
using the Long March family of rocketswith a success rate of 94. 6%.
It took until 1992 before the leadershipof a modernized china saw value in a
space programas a way to stimulate and demonstrate
advances in engineering and science. In1992 project 921 was approved its
objective to establish a manned Chinesepresence in space the first step of a
new program was to develop a human ratedcapsule. ‘Shenzhou’ meaning divine vessel flew a successful unmanned test flightin November 1999. Two years later ‘Shenzhou 2’ – carried animals on board to testthe life-support systems a monkey a dog
a rabbit and some snails despitesetbacks progress on Shenzhou developed steadily and on October 15th 2003 YangLiwei a first Taikonaut traveled on
board Shenzhou 5 making China the thirdnation to independently carry a human
into space. Now the Mandarin word forspace is taikong add the Western word
naut and you have Taikonaut theChinese version of astronaut. Liwei
completed 14 orbits of the earth in alittle over 21 hours celebrating by
waving the flags of the People’sRepublic of China and the United Nations
to the onboard cameras the next phase ofproject 921 was to establish a small
space station. By 2011 for Chinese spaceagency had constructed and prepared the
eight and a half ton tiangong 1 or’Heavenly Palace’. the Space Lab was
capable of supporting three Taikonaut’sfor scientific missions up to a few
weeks. The interior was painted in twocolors to represent the sky and the
ground helping the Taikonauts toorientate themselves in microgravity.
However the main purpose of a prototypewas as a target vehicle to test docking
with the Shenzhou capsulebut while the Tiangong-1 was
completing his final ground tests theChinese space agency faced a new problem. On August the 18th a Long March 2Crocket suffered a failure during the
second stage engine burn and it was lost. If the same thing happened during the
launch of a Tiangong-1 or a mannedmission it would be disastrous for the
entire space program. Engineers hurriedlymade more than a 170 modificationsto the Long March 2 in just six weeks
resulting in the new “FT-1” version whichwas approved to carry China’s first
Space Lab. On September 29th 2011 heavenlyPalace successfully launched into its
target orbit in June 2012 the first crewof three Taikonauts arrived including
China’s first woman in space Lu Yang. The Shenzhou 9 spacecraft docked
successfully and remained at Tiangong-1for 11 days. After another man visit in
2013Tiangong-1 was put into sleep mode and
its orbit has been gradually decayingever since. But it’s almost time for the
first ‘Heavenly Palace’ to come back downto earth. In the early months of 2018 the
inter-agency space debris CoordinationCommittee will track the space labs
reentry to further refine its predictionof where it might end up. In September
2016 a second orbital lab Tiangong-2launched from the Jing Quang Launch Center in the Gobi Desert to be joined a monthlater by a two-man crew aboard at
Shenzhou 11 with a similar size anddesign to the first Heavenly Palace Tiangong-2 – was able to support TaikonautsJing Hipong and Chen Dong for 30
days. During this time they tested arange of scientific instruments
including the first ever cold atomicclock experiment in space which operated
at a fraction of degree above absolutezero, so accurate but it only loses one
second every billion years. As well assetting up an independent manned space
program China is also breaking newground with a serious high-tech moon
Landers. On the 1st of December 2013 a1200 kilogram Lander named Chang 3
launched on a mission to the moon. Fivedays after a launch Chang 3 entered an
orbit approaching a hundred kilometersaltitude above all in the lunar surface. After a second decelerating burn on the 14thof December the lander descended to just
a hundred meters altitude above theMare Imbrium, hovering in position
whilst it’s onboard cameras locatedlanding site. Executing a 12-minute
landing sequenceChang 3 touchdowned successfully, the
first lunar soft landing in 37 years. Butthe mission was far from over.
Like the soviet Lunokhod rovers of theearly 1970s, chang 3 was equipped with a
nuclear-powered heating unit to survivethe harsh lunar nights. As well as
having an array of scientificinstruments the Chinese Lander also
carried a 140 kilogramRover called Yutu which explored the
volcanic crater near the landing site. The rover was named by public poll in
Chinese mythology,Yutu was the pet rabbit of Chang the
moon goddess so in the West we know therover as the Jade rabbit, moon rabbit or
just rabbit. But this particular rabbitcame to a bit of a sticky intermittent
end in January 2014 when it had a”mechanical control abnormality” according to the chinese state media although manyin the West believe it fell victim to be
highly unforgiving the lunar dustjamming its mechanics. It intermittently
communicated back again with earth upuntil March 2015 when it finally fell
silent. But China aims to go even furtherin 2018 when the backup lander of a
Chang 3 mission is scheduled to do atouchdown on the far side of a moon as
Chang 4. This will be an impressivefirst, all the American and Soviet soft
landings were executed in direct line ofsight with the earth. The proposed
landing site is the ‘South Pole-Aitken basin’a candidate for the largest impact
crater in the solar system with a diameterof two and a half thousand kilometers.
Here the Chinese Lander will be able toexamine 15 kilometers of exposed crust
hopefully uncovering evidence to help usunderstand the moon’s violent past
better. In 2016 China launched 22 rocketsthat’s more than the Russians and the
same number as the US, it has plans for athird space station and its own space
telescope in the mid-2020swith aims to put men on the moon by the
mid 2030s, so it looks like NASA, ESAand SpaceX will have
some serious competition in the nearfuture. So thanks watching and this
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