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SPACE FLIGHT 2003 -- Asian Space Activities

China, India and Japan have space programs capable of launch and satellite development and operations.

China. With a total of 7 launches in 2003 (including the failed first test flight on September 16 of a new heavy lifter designated KT), China moved into third place of spacefaring nations after USA and Russia. In fact, the People's Republic's space program made worldwide headlines in 2003 with its successful orbital launch of the first Chinese "taikonaut", 38-year old Lt. Col. Yang Liwei of the People's Liberation Army. His spacecraft Shenzou 5 ("Divine Vessel 5") was launched in the morning (9 am) of October 15, followed by a dawn reentry and landing 21 hr. 23 min. later about 600 miles east of the launch area of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center launch site in the Gobi desert.

The flight of the first Chinese into space had been preceded by several years of developments, including four uncrewed test flights and the construction of major new facilities, reportedly at a cost so far of 18 billion Yuan ($2.2 billion). The first inhabitable (but still uncrewed) capsule Shenzou 1, a 7200-kg. (16,000-lbs.) modified version of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft (but with a 13% larger cockpit-equipped descent module) was launched and recovered on November 21, 1999. Shenzhou 2 followed on January 9, 2001, with several biological experiments and small animals on board. In 2002, the third Shenzhou spaceship was successfully placed in orbit on March 25 from Jiuquan, followed by Shenzhou 4 on December 29. Both were successfully recovered after parachute landing in central Inner Mongolia. Reportedly, Shenzhou 4 was completely equipped to carry a crew, including food, medicine and sleeping bags, and it was also upgraded from the three earlier missions in its control systems. In past years, China has been training 14 potential "taikonauts", some of them at Russia's Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC).

The launch vehicle of the Shenzhou spaceships is the new human-rated Long March 2F rocket. China's Long March (Chang Zheng, CZ) series of launch vehicles consists of 12 differing versions, which by the end of 2003 have made 75 flights, sending 85 payloads (satellites and spacecraft) into space, with 90% success rate. China has three modern (but land-locked, thus azimuth-restricted) launch facilities: at Jiuquan (Base 20, also known as Shuang Cheng-Tzu/East Wind) for low Earth orbit (LEO) missions, Taiyuan (Base 25) for sun-synchronous missions, and Xichang (Base 27) for geostationary missions.

Five other major launches in 2003 served to demonstrate China's growing space maturity (2002: four successful launches; 2001: one). On May 24, a CZ-3A launched the Beidou navigation satellite, followed on October 21 by the launch of the Chinese/Brazilian earth resources imaging satellite CBERS-2, along with the small Chuangxin-1 communications research satellite on a CZ-4B, on November 3 by the military/civilian imaging recoverable spacecraft FSW-18 on a CZ-2D, on November 14 by the comsat Zhongxing-20 on a CZ-3A and on December 29 by Tan Ce 1, the first of two Chinese/European DoubleStar magnetospheric spacecraft (ESA designation: DSP-E), on a CZ-2C.

India. India continued its development programs for satellites and launch vehicles through the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO, created in 1969), part of the Department of Space (DOS). Main satellite programs are the INSAT (Indian National Satellite) telecommunications system, the IRS (Indian Remote Sensing) satellites for earth resources, the METSAT weather satellites, and the new GSat series of large (up to 2.5-tons) experimental geostationary comsats. India's main launchers today are the PSLV (Polar Space Launch Vehicle) and the Delta 2-class GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle). In 2003, the country successfully conducted two launches: one by the GSLV's second developmental test flight, designated GSAT-D2, carrying the 2000 kg (4400 lbs)-class experimental communication satellite GSat-2, the other a four-stage PSLV-C5, the eighth PSLV vehicle, with the IRS-P6/ResourceSat-1 for multi-spectral remote sensing of the Earth. The launch took place from India's Sriharikota Space Center, renamed Satish Dhawan Space Centre-SHAR in 2002 after the former chairman of India's space commission and a pioneer of the nation's space program. Also in 2003, India offered to make the PSLV available for launching two small Brazilian technology satellites that were originally to be orbited by Brazil's own VLS-3 rocket, destroyed on August 22. India has also formally expressed its desire to participate in the European Union's $3.9-billion Galileo satellite navigation system.

Japan. Up until September 30, 2003, the central space development and operations organization in Japan was the National Space Development Agency (NASDA), spread over four centers: Tanegashima Space Center (major launch facility), Tsukuba Space Center (tracking and control), Kakuda Propulsion Center, and Earth Observation Center. The two other organizations for satellite technology development, deep space exploration and basic space and aeronautical research in Japan were the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) and the National Space Laboratory (NSL). Starting on October 1 of 2003, the three space organizations were integrated and consolidated into one new space agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), with a workforce of about 1800 and a 2003 budget of about $1.6 billion.

In past years, NASDA developed the launchers N1, N2, H1 and H2. After seven test launches of the H2 until 1999, it was decided to focus efforts on the new, modified H2-A vehicle, an uprated and more cost-effective version of the costly H-2 that had its maiden flight in 2001 (August 29). In 2002, the H-2A executed three missions, all successful, launching eight satellites including one for communications, two for remote sensing, one for micro-G research and several for technology development. In 2003, however, after successfully launching two reconnaissance satellites (IGS-1A/Optical-1 and IGS-1b/Radar-1) on the fifth H-2A on March 28, the November 29 launch of the sixth H-2A failed when ground controllers were forced to send a destruct command after one of its two solid rocket boosters failed to separate from the first stage. Lost with the heavy lifter were Optical-2 and Radar-2, the second set of the orbiting reconnaissance system.

In its longer-range view, JAXA is studying versions of a "new generation" launch vehicle, essentially a heavier lift version of the H-2A with 10-20% greater lift capacity than its predecessor, which would put it into the Delta-4 class.

One area of great promise for Japan continues to be the ISS Program, in which the country is participating with a sizeable 12.6% share. Its $3-billion contributions to the ISS are the 15-ton pressurized Japanese Experiment Module JEM called "Kibo", along with its ancillary remote manipulator arm and unpressurized porch-like exposed facility for external payloads, and the H-2 transfer vehicle (HTV), which will carry about 6 metric tons of provisions to the ISS once or twice a year, launched on an H-2A. In 2003, the Mitsubishi-built JEM left Yokohama harbor by ship, arriving at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on May 30. Kibo will be launched to the ISS on the space shuttle.

Hayabusa (Muses-C). Japan's only other successful launch in 2003 was the first asteroid sample return mission aboard an ISAS solid-propellant M-5 rocket that lifted off at the Kagoshima Space Center in southern Japan on May 9, placing the spacecraft Hayabusa (Muses-C) on a trajectory towards the asteroid 25143 Itokawa/1998 SF36. The deep-space probe is scheduled to arrive at the asteroid in mid-2005, after completing an Earth flyby in 2004 (May 19, at 3725 km closest passage). Hayabusa ("Falcon") will spend five months at the asteroid, conducting observation as well as gathering a tiny sample of the asteroid itself. It will then depart the asteroid in late 2005 and return to Earth in mid-2007, with the sample to be recovered in a reentry capsule parachuted to the surface in the Australian outback. The launch was the first for the M-5 since the launch failure of the ASTRO-E astronomy spacecraft in February 2000.

Nozomi. In 2003, efforts to put the luckless Nozomi ("Hope") spacecraft into Martian orbit were abandoned, when an attempt to fire thrusters to orient the craft for a Mars orbit insertion burn failed on December 9. Smaller thrusters were successfully fired and Nozomi flew past Mars at a distance of 1000 km on December 14, going into a heliocentric orbit with a period of roughly two years. In the preceding year (2002), Nozomi (Planet-B) had proceeded along its rocky path toward the Red Planet after successfully executing a series of course-correction maneuvers in early September. Launched in July 1998 on Japan's M-5 rocket, an engine problem in December 1998 forced controllers to reroute the spacecraft, delaying its arrival at Mars from October 1999 to December 2003. In April 2002, while approaching Earth for a gravity-assist maneuver in December of that year, Nozomi was hit by solar flare radiation that damaged its onboard communications and power systems. The probe completed the first Earth flyby as scheduled; a second followed in June 2003.