Text Size

SPACE FLIGHT 2005 - Asian Space Activities
 

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

China. With a total of five launches in 2005 (2004: eight), China remained solidly in third place of spacefaring nations after Russia and USA, having 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 in the 4760-kg (10,500 lb) spacecraft Shenzhou 5 ("Divine Vessel 5") on a 21-hour mission. In 2005, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) scored another huge success with the launch of the 7700-kg (17,000 lb) two-seater Shenzhou 6 carrying the two Taikonauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng. The spacecraft was launched on October 12 from the Jiuquan launch site in the Gobi desert, and the crew returned safely on October 17, after 75 orbits and about 2 million miles, lasting 115 hours 32 minutes. During the flight, both crewmembers left their seats, floated in space and at one time also took off their 10-kg. spacesuits. On October 15, they received a call from President Hu Jintao. The Shenzhou 6 spaceflight was designed to further China's human spaceflight experience as it works toward developing a manned space station and to serve as a symbol of national pride, demonstrating China's technological prowess.

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 2005 have made 88 flights, sending 100 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. Development of a less restrictive launch site, on the tropical island Hainan in the South China Sea, is under consideration.

Its five major launches in 2005 served to demonstrate China's growing space maturity (2004: 8 successful launches; 2003: 6; 2002: 4; 2001: 1). On April 12, a CZ-3B launched the Chinese Apstar 6 comsat, on July 5 a CZ-2D the SJ-7 science research satellite, followed on August 2 and 29 by the recoverable imaging satellites FSW-21 (Fanhui Shi Weixing, Experimental Recoverable Satellite-21) and FSW-22, winding up a record of 47 consecutive launch successes for the Long March, which in its two-stage 2C version has a lift-off weight of 211 tons (422,400 lb), a total length of 41.9 m (137.5 ft), a diameter of the rocket and payload fairing of 3.35 m (11 ft), and a low earth orbit launching capacity of 1 ton (2200 lb). The 3B version has a liftoff weight of 468 tons (936,760 lb), a total length of 54.9 m (180 ft) and a payload capability to low geosynchronous orbit of 4.95 tons (9900 lb).

An important payload for China was launched on October 27 on a Russian Kosmos-3M: the Beijing-1 spacecraft, carrying a new mapping telescope. Beijing-1, also known as Disaster Monitoring Constellation-4, provides 4-meter resolution. Among other uses, Chinese planning officials intend to employ the satellite imagery for their preparations of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

India. While China's second human spaceflight in as many years was the top highpoint in Asian spaceflight developments in 2005, India also achieved some notable milestones, continuing 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 2005 (as in 2004), the country conducted only one launch, but it was an important landmark: On May 5, a PSLV launched the Cartosat-1 mapping satellite, designed to take black-and-white pictures with a resolution of 2.5 meters, India's highest-resolution imaging satellite to date. At 1560 kg, Cartosat-1 was the heaviest payload launched to date on the PSLV, which also carried the Hamsat (Vusat) satellite for amateur radio operators, from India's new launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota.

India is working on plans to explore the Moon, with the announced intent to send an unmanned probe there in 2007. ISRO calls the Moon flight project Chandrayaan Pratham, which has been translated as "First Journey to the Moon" or "Moonshot One". The 525-kg (1,157-lbs) Chandrayaan-1 would be launched on a PSLV rockets. After first circling Earth in a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO), the spacecraft would fly on out into a polar orbit of the Moon some 60 miles above the surface, carrying X-ray and gamma-ray spectrometers and sending data back to Earth for producing a high-resolution digital map of the lunar surface. The project's main objectives are high-resolution photography of the lunar surface using remote-sensing instruments sensitive to visible light, near-infrared light, and low-energy and high-energy X-rays. Space aboard the satellite also will be available for instruments from scientists in other countries. Chandrayaan-1 is expected to be the forerunner of more ambitious planetary missions in the years to come, including landing robots on the moon and visits by Indian spacecraft to other planets in the solar system. ISRO in 2005 broke ground in Bangalore on a deep space tracking station in preparation for the Chandrayaan-1 mission.

Japan. Japan's space program also made some headlines during the year 2005, leading off with the successful return to flight, on February 26, of the H2-A launch vehicle, whose failure in 2003 had destroyed a pair of high-priority surveillance satellites,- IGS-1A/Optical-1 and IGS-1b/Radar-1 (on the fifth H-2A on March 28). The payload in the February flight was the weather and air traffic management satellite MTSat-1R (which later developed technical problems). On July 10, Japan's space agency JAXA launched the X-ray astronomy satellite Astro-E2 Suzaku ("red bird of the South") from JAXA's Uchinoura Space Center on an M-V rocket, the fifth in a series of Japanese X-ray astronomy satellites. Also in the headlines, in November 2005, was Japan's Space Engineering Spacecraft Hayabusa ("peregrine falcon", also: MUSES-C). Launched on May 9, 2003, from the Kagoshima Space Center in southern Japan on an ISAS solid-propellant M-5 rocket, the probe made a successful touchdown on the Asteroid Itokawa on November 11, and a second on November 25, to collect samples to bring back to Earth. Hayabusa has since encountered technical difficulties that cast some doubt on its ability to return to Earth. Contact was reestablished in December. If restoration of cruise conditions can be accomplished in 2006, Hayabusa's return would still be delayed by three years to 2010, with the sample to be recovered in a reentry capsule parachuted to the surface in the Australian outback.

In its longer-range view, Japan's space agency 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 ("hope"), 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. On May 30, 2003, the Mitsubishi-built JEM arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Kibo will be launched to the ISS on the space shuttle. Another major highlight in 2005 was the participation of Japanese astronaut Soichi Nogushi as a crewmember in the July 26 Return to Flight shuttle mission STS-114/Discovery to the ISS, where Nogushi conducted three spacewalks during the docked period that garnered heavy media coverage in Japan.