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Space industry soars to new heights
Last Updated: 2019-01-10 09:30 | China Daily
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China's space industry has taken huge strides in the past 12 months, culminating in last week's successful landing of a probe on the far side on the moon for the first time in history.

Last year not only saw the start of the Chang'e 4 lunar program, but also marked the first time China had launched more rockets into orbit than any other country in a year.

China saw 39 orbital launches in 2018, equaling the nation's total space missions in the 1990s.

These launches accounted for one-third of the world's space missions last year-more than the combined missions of Russia, the European Union and India, which ranked third to fifth in the annual launch list. The second-highest number of launches was 34 by the United States.

China's 39 missions were the most of any nation in a single year since 2000, when Russia carried out the same number.

In 2017, China conducted 18 space launches, the US 29 and Russia 20. In 2016, China and the US both staged 22 launches.

Largely due to China's space activities, 2018 was the first year since 1990 in which 100 orbital launches were made worldwide. In 1990, 121 launches took place.

Since 1964, more than 100 launches had taken place annually for 27 years, but the numbers tailed off through the 1990s and 2000s for a host of reasons, the main one being the end of the space race between the US and the Soviet Union.

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, the private US aerospace manufacturer and transportation services company, wrote on his Twitter account late last month that he thought China's space progress was "amazing", adding that last year the country had staged more orbital launches than the US for the first time.

However, the tech tycoon was wrong-it was the third time China had outperformed the US in launch attempts, the previous times being in 2011 and 2012.

The first space launch last year was made by Musk's Falcon 9 Full Thrust rocket to send a classified US satellite into orbit. The satellite was feared lost shortly after launch due to technical problems.

The last launch of the year was that of China's Long March 2D rocket, which successfully placed into orbit the first satellite of what is intended to be the nation's largest space-based network.

Of China's 39 missions, 37 were conducted by the major space contractor China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp's Long March series. All were successful.

Another State-owned contractor, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, made one successful launch with its Kuaizhou rocket, while LandSpace, a private rocket maker in Beijing, carried out its first launch, also the first orbital attempt by a privately built Chinese carrier rocket, although the mission failed due to malfunctions in flight.

These missions involved nine types of Chinese carrier rockets that thrust 104 spacecraft, including the Chang'e 4 lunar explorer, skywards.

Pang Zhihao, a spaceflight researcher at the China Academy of Space Technology, said the unprecedented number of launches last year and the high success rate are evidence of the country's rocket research and manufacturing capabilities and the quality of its space products.

He said: "For instance, the Long March 3A series had a tight launch schedule in 2018 that was much more intense than previously. But the rocket maker cooperated very well with its engine supplier as well as the launch center, and together they managed to ensure the success of every mission despite huge pressure. All of these factors show that the country is now an experienced space launcher."

Jin Zhiqiang, a rocket project manager at China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, said the Long March 3A series was the busiest rocket classification last year, with 14 missions. He said the series has produced one of the most reliable rockets in the world, capable of ensuring missions to various types of orbits.

He said the 100th launch in the Long March 3A series will take place in the first half of this year, making the classification the first to achieve this milestone.

Global implications

Yang Yuguang, a senior space industry observer in Beijing and a member of the International Astronautical Federation's Space Transportation Committee, said many of China's space efforts last year were not only important to the nation itself, but also had global significance.

These included the Chang'e 4 lunar mission and the accelerated construction of the Beidou Navigation Satellite System.

The Chang'e 4 spacecraft was launched atop a Long March 3B rocket early last month at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province-the country's fourth lunar expedition.

After a four-and-half-day journey and about 22 days of preparations in lunar orbit, the probe made its landmark soft landing on the far side of the moon on Jan 3, accomplishing a goal sought by scientists for decades.

The descent and landing were conducted through control signals from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center transmitted via China's Queqiao relay satellite, another technological highlight of the mission. Queqiao, named after a legendary bridge between the Earth and the moon, was launched in May.

Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's lunar program, said the descent and landing were perfect. He described the mission as "an important milestone for China's space exploration", adding that it is a good start for future efforts.

Ten hours after the landing, the probe released its rover, the Yutu 2, or Jade Rabbit 2, to roam and survey the landing site in the enormous South Pole-Aitken basin, widely considered the largest and deepest known basin in the solar system.

Tidal forces on Earth slow the moon's rotation to the point that the same side always faces the Earth. Most of the far side is never visible from Earth.

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Space industry soars to new heights
Source:China Daily | 2019-01-10 09:30
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