China Launches New Long-March 5 Heavy Rocket –“Sets the Stage for Manned Space Station and Moon Base”

 

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China has launched its new Long March-5 heavy rocket yesterday, state media said, sending its payload into orbit in the country’s latest step in advancing its space exploration program and setting the stage to for a permanent manned space station and exploring the moon and Mars. The two-stage rocket’s ability to put 25 tons of payload into low-Earth orbit and 14 tons to geostationary transfer orbit gives it a carrying capacity 2.5 times larger than previous models. “With the heavy-lift carrier rocket, China can build a permanent manned space station and explore the moon and Mars,” the Xinhua news agency confirmed.


The launch comes after China began its longest manned space mission last month, sending two astronauts to spend a month aboard a space laboratory that is part of a broader plan to have a permanent manned space station in service around 2022.

The rocket, larger than previous versions of China’s Long-March carrier rockets, blasted off on Thursday night from a pad in the southern province of Hainan, state news agency Xinhua said, a launch intended to verify its design and performance.

“Its successful launch has propelled China to the forefront of the world in terms of rocket carrying capacity, and marks a milestone in China’s transition from a major player in space to a major power in space,” Xinhua cited the ruling Communist Party’s Central Committee and powerful Central Military Commission as saying in a letter.

Advancing China’s space program is a priority for Beijing, which insists it is for peaceful purposes.

The U.S. Defense Department has highlighted China’s increasing space capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed at preventing other nations using space-based assets in a crisis.

Despite its space program’s advancements for military, commercial and scientific purposes, China is still playing catch-up to established space powers the United States and Russia.

China’s Jade Rabbit moon rover landed on the moon in late 2013 to great national fanfare, but soon suffered severe technical difficulties.

The rover and the Chang’e 3 probe that carried it there were the first “soft landing” on the moon since 1976. Both the United States and the Soviet Union had accomplished the feat earlier.

In August 2016, the Chinese government has unveiled plans to build a permanently manned radar station on the moon to monitor Earth. The project was launched earlier this year and received funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

The proposed facility, which may include quarters for astronauts and a powerful radar antenna array at least 50 meters high, could monitor wider areas of our planet than existing satellites, according to scientists involved in the study.

The base, which would be used for scientific research and defense monitoring, could also produce more powerful and clearer images of earth as the high-frequency microwaves emitted by the radar station could not only penetrate cloud, but also the earth’s surface, allowing it to monitor areas on land, under the sea and underground.

Leading space scientists in China have joined the radar station project. The team held a two-day brainstorming session at the Fragrant Hill Hotel in Beijing in July. Those taking part included Yan Jun, the director of the National Astronomical Observatories; Professor Lin Yangting, a planetary researcher whose team discovered evidence of coal-like carbon in an asteroid; and senior scientists from China’s unmanned lunar exploration missions. The team leader is Professor Guo Huadong, a top radar technology expert at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Guo initially proposed the moon-based radar station in a research paper in the journal Science China Earth Sciences three years ago, suggesting that the moon had numerous advantages over satellites or a space station as an earth observation platform, including stability and the unlimited durability of any complex on the lunar surface.

The data collected by lunar radar would help with a wide range of scientific research issues such as monitoring extreme weather conditions, global earthquake activity, agricultural production and the collapse of the polar ice caps, he wrote.
To generate high intensity radio beams that could reach earth, the radar station would need an enormous amount of power so a solar or nuclear power plant would have to be built, Guo said in the paper.

The radar would generate at least 1.4 gigabytes of data each second, a volume far exceeding the bandwidth of current long-distance space communications technology, but this would not be a problem if the station was manned by astronauts who could process the information on site, he added.

Guo gave no precise estimate on costs for the project, but cautioned it would be “very expensive”. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Many researchers interviewed by the South China Morning Post, however, expressed scepticism about the scheme, arguing it was a waste of money, time and human resources. “It’s a lunatic idea,” said one mainland space scientist informed of the project, but not directly involved. The cost of building such as a large scale facility on the moon would be “higher than filling the sky with a constellation of spy satellites”, which could “do the same job at only a fraction of the cost”, said the scientist, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

“Either the radar has to be extremely powerful, or the antenna extremely large, otherwise it won’t be able to pick up the radio waves bouncing back from the Earth,” said Professor Zhou Yiguo, a radar technology researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “It is an important subject of research, but whether its advantage over satellite constellations can adjust the high cost and risk will need careful evaluation.”

The lunar radar project comes as China shows signs of wanting to play a leading role in a renewed race to the moon, according to some space experts.

The design of a giant rocket the same size as the Saturn V in the US Apollo missions will be completed by 2020 to pave way for large scale activities in space including a “manned moon landing”, according to a scientific and technological innovation plan announced by the central government earlier this month.

The Daily Galaxy via Xinhua, South China Morning Post, and Reuters

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