Text Size

SPACE FLIGHT 2002 -- Asian Space Activities

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

China. The People's Republic's space program continued strong activities in 2002, with four successful launches (2001: one) of its Long March rocket in two versions and one launch failure, on September 15, of the first new all-solid four-stage launch vehicle named Kaituozhe 1 (Explorer 1). After China separated its military and civil space programs in 1998 as part of a ministerial reform, the Chinese Space Agency CNSA (China National Space Administration) is responsible for planning and development of space activities. Its top priority today is the development of piloted space flight, followed by applications satellites.

After the launch and recovery on November 21, 1999, of its first inhabitable (but still uncrewed) capsule "Shenzou" (Divine Vessel), a 7200-kg. (16,000-lbs.) modified version of the Russian Soyuz vehicle (but with a 13% larger cockpit-equipped descent module), China successfully launched and recovered Shenzhou 2 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 Satellite Launch Center, 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. After the launch, Beijing indicated that the first crew will fly in the latter half of 2003. China has been training 14 potential astronauts ("taikonauts"), two of them at Russia's Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC).

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 2002 have made 69 flights, sending 78 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.

India. India, through the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO, created in 1969), part of the Department of Space (DOS), has continued its development programs for satellites and launch vehicles. 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 (Geostationary Space Launch Vehicle). In 2002, India augmented its weather forecasting ability by successfully launching a dedicated METSAT with a PSLV rocket into a highly elliptical orbit for later maneuvering into its geosynchronous (stationary) orbital slot using onboard propulsion. The launch was the seventh flight of the four-stage PSLV, in a modified version, and the first to place a satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit. Conducted by ISRO, the launch took place from India's Sriharikota Space Center, renamed Satish Dhawan Space Center in 2002 after the former chairman of India's space commission and a pioneer of the nation's space program.

Japan. The central space development and operations organization in Japan is 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. Japan's space budget, last year at a level comparable to the entire ESA budget, in 2002 has dropped by 6.5% to 267 billion yen ($2 billion). Because of funding from other government ministries, for NASDA that meant 2% less than in 2001.

NASDA has 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 which had its maiden flight in 2001 (August 29). In 2002, the H2-A had 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. The four successful H2-A launches in a row have greatly restored commercial confidence in Japan's launch vehicle technology, even if more verification and some improvement of the vehicle's availability are needed to become commercially fully competitive.

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 contributions to the ISS are the Japanese Experiment Module JEM called "Kibo" (Hope), along with its ancillary remote manipulator system and porch-like exposed facility, 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 H2-A.

Nozomi. During 2002, Japan's Mars mission Nozomi (Planet-B) proceeded along its rocky path toward the Red Planet after successfully executing a series of course-correction maneuvers in early September. There is still much uncertainty ahead for the damaged probe to get safely into Martian orbit. Launched in July 1998 on Japan's M-5 rocket, an engine problem in December forced controllers to reroute the spacecraft, delaying its arrival at Mars from October 1999 to January 2004. In April 2002, while approaching Earth for a gravity-assist maneuver scheduled for December, 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 is slated for June 2003. It remains doubtful whether Nozomi can survive until its Mars arrival and maneuver itself into Mars orbit in January 2004.