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SPACE FLIGHT 2007 - The Year in Review

Asian Space Activities

China, India and Japan have space programs capable of launch and satellite development and operations.  Kazakhstan is in early stages of joining the space-faring community.

China

Probably the biggest news in 2007, stunning the world, was China successfully testing a kinetic anti-satellite (Asat) weapon on January 11.  This use of a mobile missile to destroy an aging weather satellite, the Feng Yun 1C (FY-1C) satellite at 537 mi. (859 km) altitude, created more orbital debris than any previous event.  It showed that China has mastered key space sensor, tracking and other technologies important for advanced military space operations.

China, in effect, has two major space agencies: the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) for crewed and military programs, and the CNSA (China National Space Administration) for civil/scientific projects.  With a total of ten launches in 2007 (2006: 6; 2005: 5; 2004: 8; 2003: 6; 2002: 4; 2001: 1), China in 2007 continued to claim the third place of spacefaring nations before Europe, after Russia and USA, having made worldwide headlines in 2003 with its successful orbital launch, by the PLA, of the first Chinese “Taikonaut” in the 4760-kg (10,500 lb) spacecraft Shenzhou 5 (“Divine Vessel 5”) on a 21-hour mission, and in 2005 with the launch of the 7700-kg (17,000 lb) two-seater Shenzhou 6 carrying the two Taikonauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng on a 75-orbit and 115 hrs 32 min flight, 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 was 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 2007 have made 104 flights, sending 117 payloads (satellites and spacecraft) into space, with 92% 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.

A particularly interesting event was the launch of China’s first lunar orbiter project, Chang’e 1, on October 24 on a CZ-3A, the third milestone in China’s space technology after satellite and crewed spacecraft projects.  Chang’e 1, based on a Chinese telecommunications satellite, will provide 3D images of the Moon’s surface, chart elements on the Moon, measure the thickness of the lunar soil and monitor the space environment between the Earth and the Moon.

Its ten major launches in 2007 demonstrated China’s strongly emerging space maturity.  On February 2, a CZ-3A launched the Chinese Beidou-2A (Big Dipper 2A) navigation satellite, part of the Compass Navigation Satellite System (CNSS) or Compass, followed on April 11 by a CZ-2C with the Haiyang-1B maritime surveillance satellite and on April 13 by a CZ-3A with Beidou-M1.  On May 13, a CZ-3B launched NigComsat-1 for Nigeria, on May 25 a CZ-2D the Yaogan-II remote sensing satellite, on May 31 a CZ-3A the comsat SinoSat-3, on July 5 a CZ-3B the ChinaSat-6B comsat, on September 19 a CZ-4B the CBERS-2B (China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite 2B), and on November 11 a CZ-4C the Yaogan-3 SAR satellite, winding up a record of 63 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).

Japan

Japan’s space program, in 2007 had only two launches, both by the H2-A rocket, the nation’s workhorse, raising its total number of launch attempts to 11 after returning the H2-A launch vehicle to flight in 2005 following its major failure in 2003.

In 2007, a major JAXA launch on an H2-A was the 6820 lbs/2546 kg/ (at launch) Selene (SELenological & ENgineering Explorer) Moon probe named Kayuga on September 14.  On October 4. it went into a lunar orbit, inclined 95 degrees, with 15 instruments including imagers, a radar sounder, laser altimeter, X-ray fluorscence spectrometer and gamma-ray spectrometer, to study the origin, evolution and tectonics of the Moon from space.  Kayuga consists of three separate units: the main orbiter, a small relay satellite (R-Star) and the small VRAD satellite (V-Star).  Also launched with Kayuga was Micro-Labsat-2, the second of Japanese microsatellites (typically ~53 kg/116 lbs after separation), employed as a teaching project for young engineers if the launcher has excess capacity.

The second H2-A launch from Tanegashima, on February 24, brought the heavy (2646 lbs/1200 kg) military payloads IGS-4A & 4B (Intelligence Gathering Satellites) into low-orbit space, one optical (4A), the other with radar imaging (4B).

Also in the headlines in 2007 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, 2005, and a second on November 25, to collect samples to bring back to Earth.  Hayabusa then encountered serious technical difficulties that cast doubt on its ability to return to Earth.  However, contact was reestablished in December 2005, and in March 2006 JAXA announced that communication with Hayabusa had been recovered and its position established at about 13,000 km ahead of Itokawa.  In June 2006, two out of four ion engines were reportedly working normally, which will be sufficient for the return journey to Earth, where its reentry capsule with the sample should arrive in June 2010, to be recovered by parachute at Woomera, Australia.  Since February 2007, JAXA has been carefully preparing to start the nominal return trip to Earth using the remaining ion engine and one attitude control reaction wheel (as two of the three wheels are unavailable due to anomalies).  Hayabusa's return to the Earth is scheduled for June 2010.

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, to be launched starting in 2008, 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 beginning in 2009 or 2010.  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 (STS-124, currently expected for May 2008), accompanied by Japanese astronaut Dr. Takao Doi, who has flown on the shuttle before, becoming the first Japanese to perform a spacewalk.

India

India’s emerging space program, with three launch attempts in 2007, all successful, has come back strongly after only one attempt in 2006, when the first GSLV-F02 (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle F02), carrying the INSAT-4C communication satellite, failed after liftoff on July 10 from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota and fell into the Bay of Bengal.  The three 2007 launches from Sriharikota were executed by two PSLVs (Polar Space Launch Vehicles), one on January 10 with CartoSat-2, SRE-1, LAPAN-TUBsat (Indonesia) and Pehuensat (Argentina), the other on April 23 with the small astrophysics mission Agile (Italy), plus one GSLV on September 2 with INSAT-4C, replacing the satellite lost in 2006.

India’s 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 and the Delta-2-class GSLV.

India is working on plans to explore the Moon, with the announced intent to send an unmanned probe there in the near futrure.  ISRO calls the Moon flight project Chandrayaan Pratham, which has been translated as "First Journey to the Moon" or "Moonshot One".  The 1,157 lbs (525 kg) 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.