SPACE FLIGHT 2004 - Asian Space Activities

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

China. With a total of eight launches in 2004, 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 spacecraft Shenzou 5 (“Divine Vessel 5”).

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 2004 have made 83 flights, sending 95 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.

Its eight major launches in 2004 served to demonstrate China’s growing space maturity (2003: six successful launches; 2002: four; 2001: one). On April 18, a CZ-2C launched the Shiyan 1 and Naxing 1 imaging and technology satellites, on July 25 the Tan Ce-2 science satellite, followed on August 29 by the recoverable science research satellite FSW-19, which returned to Each 27 days later, on September 8 the science satellites SJ-6A and -6B, after which came the 20th FSW on September 27, the weather satellite Feng Yu 2C on October 19, the imaging satellite ZY-2C on November 6 and the Shiyan-2 remote sensing satellite on November 18, winding up a record of 41 consecutive launch successes for the Long March, which in its two-stage 2C version has a lift-off weight of 245 tons, 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 3.9 tons.

In 2004, the China National Space Administration (CNSA), through its Lunar Exploration Program Center (LEPC), initiated the project of a lunar satellite mission called Chang'e, regarded as a symbolic project in China like the Human Spaceflight Program, with the objective to serve as a community-wide exercise to bolster advanced research and development, improve project planning capabilities and master engineering system management of a complex program.

Also in 2004, CNSA under its new Administrator Sun Laiyan (since April 2004) strongly increased its efforts in engaging in international cooperation, as exemplified by the cooperative project DSP (Double Star Program), a joint ESA/Chinese project to study the effects of the Sun on Earth's environment, and in particular the "magnetotail", where storms of high-energy particles are generated, and the collaboration on ESA's Galileo navigation satellite system. CNSA improved and strengthened relationships with Russia, Ukraine, France, Germany, Italy, UK and European countries and also started promoting cooperation with Asia Pacific countries as well as with "south-south" countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Nigeria and Venezuela.

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 2004, the country conducted only one launch, but it was an important landmark: On September 20, a GSLV on its first operational flight demonstrated the reliability of the vehicle with the successful launch of EDUSAT, India's first thematic satellite dedicated for educational services. 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 2004, India saw the inauguration of the first cluster of Village Resource Centers and further expansion of Telemedicine network, reiterating India's commitment to use space technology for societal applications.

India has announced that it plans to explore the Moon and will send an unmanned probe there in 2007. ISRO calls the Moon flight project Chandrayan Pratham, which has been translated as "First Journey to the Moon" or "Moonshot One". The 525-kg (1,157-lbs) Chandrayan-1 would be launched on one of India's own PSLV rockets. At first, the spacecraft would circle Earth in a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). From there, it 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 back data 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. Chandrayan-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.

Japan. On October 1 of 2003, the new space agency JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), with a workforce of about 1800 and an overall 2004 space budget of 272.4 billion yen ($2.5 billion), took over from its predecessor NASDA (National Space Development Agency), till then the central space development and operations organization in Japan with four centers: Tanegashima Space Center (major launch facility), Tsukuba Space Center (tracking and control), Kakuda Propulsion Center, and Earth Observation Center. 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). All three space organizations were integrated and consolidated into one,- JAXA.

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 2004, efforts were underway to improve the launch vehicle.

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. 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.

Hayabusa (Muses-C). The Space Engineering Spacecraft Hayabusa (MUSES-C), launched at the Kagoshima Space Center in southern Japan on May 9, 2003 on an ISAS solid-propellant M-5 rocket, has been flying smoothly in a heliocentric orbit for about a year using its ion engines. Japan's first asteroid sample return mission, Hayabusa ("Falcon") continues on a trajectory towards the asteroid 25143 Itokawa/1998 SF36. In 2004, on May 19, Hayabusa came close to the Earth at a distance of approximately 3700 km and successfully carried out an Earth swing-by to place it in a new elliptical orbit toward Itokawa. The Earth swing-by is a technique to significantly change direction of an orbit and/or speed by using the Earth's gravity without consuming onboard propellant. After its flyby, the probe restarted its ion engines. By end-2004, the three microwave discharge engines had accumulated 20,000 hours of operational time. The deep-space probe is scheduled to arrive at the asteroid in mid-2005. It 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.

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, ending the mission. Smaller thrusters were successfully fired to reduce the possibility of impact on Mars, and Nozomi, carrying the names of 270,000 people of Japan, flew past Mars at a distance of 1000 km on December 14, going into a heliocentric orbit with a period of roughly two years and concluding the mission.