Beijing - Sept. 19, 2000
China will start research and development of a new generation of rockets, including a reusable launch vehicle (RLV), and set its sight on landing on the Moon, the Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao reports.
At a discussion forum hosted by the Hong Kong Journalist Association last Saturday (Sept. 16), the Chief Designer of Chinese rockets Long Lehao said that future launcher development would be in three main areas:
Modify existing launchers, the Changzheng series, to increase their reliability and payload capacity in two to three years;
Develop non-toxic, non-polluting launchers, and increase low-Earth-orbit launch capacity to over 20 tonnes and high-orbit capacity from the current 5.5 tonnes to about 14 tonnes. This is achieveable within five years;
Research and develop a RLV and lower launch costs, and to develop an advanced technology base for use in deep space exploration. China only begins early exploration and preparation in this area. Initial research will be in reducing a two-stage launcher to a single-stage reusable launcher and developing technologies and techniques in retrieval of portions the RLV.
According to Long, who is also the Chairman of the technology committee of the Chinese Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), China has the basic means to land on the Moon. But a lunar landing mission and its economic benefits, such as resource exploration and exploitation, would require further planning. The newspaper report did not indicate whether the lunar landing is manned or unmanned.
When asked about the timeline of China's first manned mission, Long replied philosophically: "Manned spaceflight is a procedural and gradual process. Russians conducted seven unmanned test flights before Gagarin went into space. Americans conducted even more [preparatory unmanned] flights.
"In scientific matter there is certain inner regularity, Chinese also have to obey this scientific regularity. We are actively preparing in this arena [of unmanned test flights]. ... I don't think it [the first manned mission] will be too far off, although it won't be too soon. Perhaps there won't be suddenly a [manned] flight this year."
The next unmanned test of the manned spacecraft, dubbed Shenzhou 2 mission, is rumoured to take place near the time of the National Day on October 1. Last November Shenzhou 1 successfully completely its maiden flight of 14 orbits and returned safely to land in Inner Mongolia.
Long stressed that only after comparing results of several unmanned test flights and obtaining reliable assessment would China launch its first manned mission.
Long also confirmed that China had sent its yuhangyuan ("astronauts") to train in Russia and had since returned home for on-going domestic training. However, he did not reveal who, when and how many yuhangyuan received training aboard.
Also presented at the forum was Lin Huabao, Chief Designer of Chinese satellites. Lin said that since the beginning of the space program in 1970, China had developed more than 45 satellites for science exploration, meteorological observations, broadcasting and resource surveying.
"In the next few years China will put an emphasis on developing large capacity communications satellites that will match international technological levels," said Lin.
Long added that for the Chinese space program to reach world level, it is not only a simple comparison with other spacefaring nations at the technological level; but in fact a comparison of the integrated national economy and power.
"Since China has many domestic programs to administer, funding for the space program is very limited. Under the circumstances China will not compare its space program in all areas with others. Instead the country will make more investment in key areas."