What you’re looking at is the Long March 3B rocket, one of a select fleet of launch vehicles being produced by the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
“Unlike one of the stereotypes that they’re just sort of copying our technology, they’re actually innovating,” Impey recently told NPR’s Fresh Air host Terry Gross. “They have very young engineers in their space program — very keen, very well trained, very ambitious.” – @techinsider [x]
Here’s what you need to know about their emerging space program ambitions:
1. The Long March rocket fleet can carry up to 13 tons into Earth orbit; capable of carrying satellites, robotic rovers, and humans into space.
2. China is aggressively developing a sophisticated and agile fleet of Long March rockets
3. In 2014, the CNSA launched the Long March 3C rocket that carried an experimental spacecraft which China wants to use for future lunar missions.
Changzheng rocket in Chinese pinyin is anyrocket in a family of expendable launch systems operated by the People’s Republic of China. Development and design falls under the auspices of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology. In English, the rockets are abbreviated as LM- for export and CZ- within China, as “Chang Zheng” means “Long March” in Chinese pinyin. The rockets are named after the Long March of Chinese communist history.
4. China also builds its own spacecraft, the Shenzhou. Its first uncrewed mission - similar to NASA’s EFT-1 with the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle (MCV) - was launched in November 2011. Since then, China has performed successful docking missions with the Shenzhou, and in 2013, the Shenzhou-10 achieved the longest crewed space mission for China via a Long March-2F rocket. Further crewed missions via the Shenzhou persist today.
The Shenzhou-10 crew included Wang Yaping, Nie Haisheng, and Zhang Xiaoguang. Prior to the 15 day mission, astronauts underwent pressure tests, cardiovascular training, technical training within the Shenzhou, isokinetic muscle tests, and return capsule practice before launching at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, eventually landing in Inner Mongolia.
Watch the above video expose on CNN’s rare access inside China’s space program.
5. The Shenzhou spacecraft are loosely based on Russia’s Soyuz vehicles. They both have three separate modules, but the Chinese version is larger and made with different materials. The Shenzhou spacecraft are all designed to float about 213 miles above Earth — just a few miles below the International Space Station. Taikonauts usually only spend a few weeks at a time in orbit.
7. Unlike @nasa, China has its own launch vehicle and crew capsule, rather than paying Russia to launch astronauts at $70 million per crew member.
8. Since the advent of of China’s Shenzhou human spaceflight program, Taikonauts have performed Extravehicular Activities (EVAs) outside the spacecraft, even carrying the flag of People’s Republic of China while doing so.
9. Not content on simply sending human beings into space, in December 2013, the CNSA soft-landed the Chang’e-3 probe onto the lunar surface, marking the first spacecraft to land on the Moon in nearly 40 years, carrying (and deploying) CNSA’s 300-pound “Jade Rabbit” rover. While the rover suffered technical failure during its mission, one of its instruments aboard was a telescope, which is alive and well, being used by the CNSA today.
China carried out Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2 missions in 2007 and 2010, respectively. Chang’e-3 was the country’s first moon rover - Yutu - which succeeded in soft landing on the moon in December 2013. Chang’e-4 served as the backup probe for Chang’e-3 which tested technologies to guide future probe missions. Its purpose was to obtain experimental data and validate re-entry technologies such as guidance, navigation and control, heat shield and trajectory design for a future touch-down on the moon by Chang’e-5, which is expected to be sent to the moon, collect samples and return to Earth in 2017.
A mini-satellite called the Manfred Memorial Moon Mission (4M) piggybacked on the mission, dedicated to Manfred Fuchs who died early this year. To learn more about this payload and China’s latest technology demonstration mission, read SpaceFlight101′s coverage of the Chang’e missions.
10. China has a space station called Tiangong-1, launched in 2011. It’s modular design will enable additional laboratories to be attached, with full assembly due to be complete by the early 2020′s in collaboration with other countries.
Presently, it’s illegal for the United States to work with China. In 2011, Congress passed a spending bill that expressly forbids NASA from working with China, citing a high risk of espionage. A 2015 report from the University of California called “China Dream, Space Dream” concludes that: “China’s efforts to use its space program to transform itself into a military, economic, and technological power may come at the expense of U.S. leadership and has serious implications for U.S. interests.”
One of the biggest collaborative projects in which NASA is involved is the International Space Station (ISS), a space station built and maintained by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada. China, however, is banned from involvement in the ISS, thanks to US lawmakers. However, CNSA seems to be doing just fine on its own. Since its founding in 1993, the Chinese space agency has launched 10 people and a small space station into orbit, among other missions.
China’s successes in space have impressed NASA enough to broach the topic of collaboration several times at the White House. But according to space policy expert John Logsdon, getting the US to work together with China on spaceward missions will take a long policy battle.
“The first step is the White House working with congressional leadership to get current, unwise restrictions on such cooperation revoked,” Logsdon told Space.com. “Then, the United States can invite China to work together with the United States and other spacefaring countries on a wide variety of space activities and, most dramatically, human spaceflight.”
If CNSA’s progress in space exploration and tech development isn’t a compelling enough reason to work with China, then NASA’s stunted budget offers another. More international collaboration could only be positive for a space agency that has faced budget cut after budget cut. President John F. Kennedy committed to a moon landing by the end of the 1960s, then Nixon took the helm and slammed on the brakes after a handful of crewed lunar missions. As Logsdon writes in an article for NASA:
“Nixon rejected NASA’s ambitious post-Apollo plans, which included developing a series of large space stations, continued missions to the moon, and an initial mission to Mars in the 1980s,” Logsdon writes. “By the time Nixon left the White House, the NASA budget had fallen from its peak of almost 4% of the total federal budget to less than 1%.”
Some argue that we would already have sent humans to Mars if NASA had kept its momentum. More collaboration could help get NASA back on track. In fact, NASA just announced a partnership with the Israel Space Agency that will allow the two agencies to conduct joint missions and share research facilities.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden event wrote in a recent blog post that he thinks more collaboration will help get us get boots on Mars:
“A Journey such as this is something that no one person, crew, or Agency can undertake alone. […] A mission of this magnitude is made stronger with international partnership – the sort of spirit and cooperation that is demonstrated so vividly by the tens of thousands of people across 15 countries who have been involved in the development and operation of the International Space Station.” [TechInsider]
The future of collaboration between CNSA and NASA is uncertain, but as we’re seeing in private industry and governments of other nations, our ambitions and goals as a spacefaring society are converging as it’s clear as ever that when it comes to development and progress in space, there’s strength in numbers.
Watch the Tmro SpacePod episode ‘China has revealed new information about their next Space Station, Tiangong 2, and their new unmanned cargo vessel, Tianzhou’
Read ‘Here’s why NASA won’t work with China to explore space’; ‘Leroy Chiao on Working With the Chinese’ (Air&Space); ‘How the US and China can help each other in space’ (NewScientist); ‘U.S. Astronaut Leroy Chiao: America Should Embrace China For Mars Missions’ (TheHasse); and see CNN’s interactive editorial feature ‘China: The Next Space Superpower?’