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SPACE FLIGHT 1999 - Asian Space Activities

In 1999, all indications were that Asian commercial satcom and government space programs had made some progress in recovering from the Asian-Pacific economic crisis of 1998 and were quickly headed for more solid growth in the near future despite difficulties.

India, China and Japan all have ambitious space programs capable of their own launch and satellite development activities. In fact, with the addition in 1999 of South Korea to the players in the space technology area, future space commerce could witness a new space race emerging, with Asian rocket and satellite builders vying for commercial customers in an ever-widening field of competition on the global market. With North Korea's failed test launch of its multi-stage Taepo Dong 1 missile in 1998, the growth of satellite launcher developments with potential strategic arms capabilities in Asia is today causing concern among space analysts.

Japan. In the space area, Japan was moving ahead on satellite production, acquisition, and launch programs. The country's National Space Development Agency (NASDA) has recently taken a more pragmatic step towards competing in the commercial launch market by developing the H-2A vehicle, an uprated and more cost-effective version of the costly H-2 that began operations in 1994. The H-2A shows future growth capability toward increasing payloads and decreasing launch costs.

Japan's plans in space go beyond Earth orbits, entailing missions to the Moon and to Mars. Its Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), which is collaborating with NASDA on the unmanned lunar exploration mission Selene, in 1998 had launched its first spacecraft, Nozomi, to Mars on a $995 million mission. Due to a thruster malfunction, the arrival date of the 1190-lbs. (540-kg) probe at the red planet has slipped from October 1999 to December 2003 or January 2004.

One area of great promise for Japan is the International Space Station ISS Program, in which the country is participating with a sizeable 12.6% share. The human space flight program in Japan accounted for the largest portion of NASDA's budget of $2.3 billion in 1999. From this amount, it allocated $451.4 million to the further development of its contributions to the ISS, the Japanese Experiment Module JEM, now called "Kibo" (Hope), along with its ancillary remote manipulator system and porch-like exposed facility. Its intentions to develop the H-2A as a routine supplier vehicle of the ISS, by means of its H-2 transfer vehicle (HTV), which will carry about 6 metric tons of provisions, were dealt another severe blow in 1999 when the H-2 launcher, on its seventh flight since 1994, suffered its second straight malfunction (against 5 successes) on 11/15. As a consequence, plans to begin flying the H-2-derived H-2A in 2000 were delayed for an indefinite period, and the decision was made to terminate the H-2 launch program. Lost with the H-2 was the 2900-kg. (6400-lbs.) MTSAT (Multifunctional Transport Satellite), Japan's first Wide Area Augmentation satellite for meteorology and global positioning in support of airline operations. The recent space mission failures in Japan, according to an international review panel headed by Tokyo University Professor Jiro Kondo and Jacques-Louis Lions, president of the Academy of Sciences of France, can be linked to lack of coherence in the management of NASDA.

China. The People's Republic's space program showed a strong comeback in 1999 from its previous years' commercial launcher set-backs. There were four successful missions of the Long March (Chang Zheng, CZ) rocket, including three commercial launches. These comprised one CZ-2C with two Iridium satcoms and two improved CZ-4B's, one carrying a Fengyun-1 meteorological satellite and Shijian-5 science satellite piggy-backed to it into polar orbit, the other with the two Brazilian satellites CBERS-1 for imaging and SACI-1 for science research. The fourth launch, on 11/19 on an uprated CZ-2F booster, was an uncrewed test flight of China's human space flight program, designated Project 921 and announced in 1998. The 7200-kg. (16,000-lbs.) spacecraft named "Shenzhou", a modified version of the Russian Soyuz vehicle, orbited the Earth 14 times during a 21-hr. flight that ended with the descent module's parachute landing and successful recovery on the plains of Inner Mongolia. The first manned flight is now expected for the near future, and two Chinese cosmonauts, Wu Tse and Li Tsinlung, received training in 1998 at Russia's Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) in Star City near Moscow since Oct. '96.

Taiwan. Taiwan got the first telecommunications satellite of its own when the $100 million, 884-lbs. (401-kg) Rocsat-1 (Republic of China Satellite) was launched on a three-stage Athena-1 rocket on 1/25.

India. India, through the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), part of the Department of Space (DOS), has intensified its development programs for satellites and launch vehicles. ISRO plans in 1999 included 15 satellite missions and 10 indigenous launch vehicle missions through 2003. There was one launch in 1999, and it marked an important milestone for the country's push into the commercial market. India's indigenously developed Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV, which evolved from the earlier SLV-3 and Augmented SLV series, on 5/26 launched the IRS-P4 (Oceansat-1) as its primary payload, along with two microsatellites from Germany (Tubsat-C) and South Korea (Kitsat-3), on its first commercial launch. The PSLV, a four-stage rocket with a unique combination of solid and liquid propellant stages, stands 44 m (144 ft.) tall and weighs 294 tons at liftoff; it can put a payload of up to 1200 kg (2650 lbs.) in polar Sun-synchronous orbit. Its first launch, in September 1993, was a failure, but the following flights were generally successful, with some minor glitches. The 1999 launch was the fifth flight and the second for the upgraded version, which has four of its six solid-propellant strap-ons ignited on the ground (instead of two) and two in the air.

The next step for India now is attaining geostationary capability for large (up to 2.5-tons) communications payloads. This is the purpose of the Delta 2-class Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle GSLV which uses the same first and second stages as the PSLV but four liquid propellant boosters instead of the six solid strap-ons, and a single cryogenic stage replacing the third and fourth PSLV stages. India purchased seven Russian KVD-1 cryogenic rocket engines for GSLV test launches but was forced, due to missile technology transfer restrictions (Missile Technology Control Regime, MTCR) to develop a cryogenic engine on its own. ISRO developed the engine, with a first test fire in early 1998 of a pressure-fed version; the flight version is to use turbopumps.

India's weather satellite program suffered a setback in 1999 with the failure of the main meteorological sensor on the Insat-2E spacecraft which was carried into space on 4/2 by a European Ariane rocket. The loss of the enhanced very high-resolution radiometer (VHRR) reduces the quality of meteorological data over the central Indian Ocean which are still being supplied by the older Insat-2E.

South Korea. After North Korea's failed first space mission in 1998, which was an apparent attempt to launch a satellite named Kwangmyongsong 1 on the multi-stage Taepo Dong 1 missile, South Korea's President Kim Dae Jung at end-1999 announced a five-year initiative to design, build and launch a commercial space cargo rocket, and to use the launcher to create a commercial launch business for the country.