China Launches Quantum Science Satellite to Test Secure Communications

china_flagOn Monday, China launched the experimental Quantum Science Satellite designed to demonstrate quantum communications, which could lead to secure communications that cannot be hacked.

Kicking off a two-year mission, the Micius satellite will test out quantum communications over greater distances than ever tried on the ground. It will help establish an encrypted connection between ground stations in China and Austria with the help of scientists in both countries.

“We have been doing things like quantum cryptography and quantum teleportation, and other things, in the lab beginning in the mid-1990s, and we have extended this outside the lab, with experiments between two islands of the Canary Islands with distances of 100 miles or so,” said Anton Zeilinger, a professor of experimental physics at the University of Vienna. “Now, the next logical step is the satellite.”

The concept calls for an instrument aboard the newly-launched satellite to generate a pair of photons, tiny sub-atomic particles of light. Then a high-power telescope on satellite will beam one half of the pair to ground stations in China and Europe.

The photons will be in a quantum state, meaning their properties depend on the other. Quantum entanglement has never been proven over such great distances before.

Scientists on the ground will use the photons to create a secret key, allowing messages to be exchanged between Europe and China via conventional networks like the Internet. The key is needed to break the encrypted code.

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Long March 7 Makes Successful Inaugural Flight

Model of Long March 7 booster
Model of Long March 7 booster

China debuted the new medium-lift Long March 7 launch vehicle on Saturday from its new Wenchang Space Launch Center. It was the first launch from the new coastal spaceport.

The new booster carried a scaled-down version of a next-generation space vehicle designed to carry Chinese astronauts into Earth orbit and deep space. The spacecraft is set to land autonomously in Inner Mongolia after orbiting the Earth.

The two-stage Long March 7 is capable of launching 13,500 kg (29,800 lb) in low Earth orbit and 5,500 kg (12,100 lb) into sun synchronous orbit. The stages are powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene, which are cleaner than the hypergolic fuels that power older Long March boosters.

The new rocket is designed to replace the Long March 2 and Long March 3 boosters.  The first stage is based on the Long March 2F rocket that is used to launch cosmonauts into space aboard Shenzhou spacecraft. The new booster shares engines with the Long March 5 and Long March 6 rockets.

Long March 7 photo by Pline – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41264717

China to Debut New Spaceport & New Rocket Next Month

Long March 5 model
Long March 5 model

The inaugural flight of China’s new Long March 7 rocket next month will be the first launch from the nation’s newest spaceport.

Long March 7 will carry a prototype re-entry capsule for China’s next-generation human spacecraft when it lifts off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on June 26.

Located on Hainan Island, Wenchang is China’s first orbital launch site located on the coastline. The Jiuquan, Taiyuan and Xichang launch facilities are all situated inland.

Wenchang will be the primary launch site for Long March 7 and Long March 5 rockets. Wenchang is located 19 degrees above the equator, which will make it easier for China to launch satellites into equatorial orbit.

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China’s Satellite Launch Vehicle Surge

A Long March 3-B rocket lifts off with China's Chang'e-3 lunar rover. (Credit: CAST)
A Long March 3-B rocket lifts off with China’s Chang’e-3 lunar rover. (Credit: CAST)

China is in the midst of an overhaul of its satellite launch capabilities, with the introduction of five new launch vehicles in just over two years.

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China Eyes Human Mission to Moon in 2036

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University
Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

China is eying a human landing on the moon in about 20 years.

China wants to put astronauts on the moon by 2036, a senior space official said, the latest goal in China’s ambitious lunar exploration program.

China must “raise its abilities and use the next 15 to 20 years to realize manned lunar exploration goals, and take a firm step for the Chinese people in breaking ground in the utilization of space”, Lieutenant General Zhang Yulin, deputy commander of the China Manned Space Program, said.

The paper cited experts saying China needed first to develop a powerful enough rocket to lift a payload of at least 100 metric tons into low Earth orbit. It also needs more advanced technology, including new space suits, for a lunar mission.

China’s space budget is still only about one-tenth of the United States’ outlays, officials have said. According to Chinese state media, China spends about $2 billion a year on its space program, though details are vague.

China Working on Reusable Launch Vehicles & Spacecraft

shenzhou1
Shenzhou capsule

Spurred on by developments in the United States, China says it is working on reusable human spacecraft and launch vehicles.

China is studying how to retrieve and reuse manned spacecraft in its future missions, the chief engineer of the nation’s manned space program said on Sunday.

“It’s our next goal to reuse manned spacecraft. We want to make our space exploration cost-effective,” Zhou Jianping said, as China marks Space Day, newly designated by the government to commemorate China’s first satellite launch on April 24, 1970….

Chinese’s official Xinhau news agency also reported that engineers are working on reusable launch vehicles.

Chinese experts have already built a prototype model to test theories on the reusable rocket booster’s landing subsystems. They have completed “experimental verifications” using “multiple parachutes” supposedly attached to the booster, a source with China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technologies (CALT), developer of China’s Long March rocket series, said.

“The experiment has laid solid foundation for the realization of reusable rockets in the country,” the source said.

Ma Zhibin, deputy director of CALT’s aerospace department also confirmed to Xinhua Thursday in a separate interview that Chinese scientists are working on reusable rockets, although the technologies they employ may differ from those of SpaceX.

“There is of course more than one way to do this … I believe we could see some serious results during the 13th Five-Year Plan period,” he said, referring to the five years between 2016 and 2020.

NASA Gets $1.27 Billion Boost in Spending Measure

NASA LOGONASA would received $19.3 billion in FY 2016 under an Omnibus spending measure unveiled early Wednesday by Congress. The amount would be $1.27 billion more than last year and $756 million above the amount requested by President Barack Obama.

The Commercial Crew Program would receive “up to $1.24 billion,” which is the amount requested by the Administration. It would mark the first time that Congress has fully funded the program if it receives the total amount. It is not clear exactly what the phrase “up to” means.

Just about every other major program would receive a boost in spending, including the Space Launch System, Orion deep space vehicle, International Space Station, and the Science and Space Technology programs.

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U.S. Report Wearily Eyes Rise of Chinese Space Program

Long March launch
Long March launch

A section of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2015 Report to Congress casts a weary eye on the rise of the Chinese space program.

“China’s rise as a major space power challenges decades of U.S. dominance in space—an arena in which the United States has substantial military, civilian, and commercial interests,” the report states.

Below are some key excerpts of the report’s section about China’s space program, including an overview, a description the program’s structure, conclusions and recommendations. You can read the full report here. The section on the space program begins on p. 272.

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China Eyes Next Generation Crew Vehicle for Deep Space Missions

china_flagChina is eyeing a next-generation human space transportation system to carry taikonauts to future space stations and to conduct missions to the moon, Mars and asteroids, according to a report on a Chinese space blog.

A feasibility study proposes a conical spacecraft similar to the American Orion and Apollo capsules capable of carrying between two and six crew members. The capsule would be attached to service modules of different sizes similar to the ones used for Apollo missions.

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China to Launch Second Space Station Next Year; Moon Plans Remain Uncertain

Model of the Tiangong-2 space station
Model of the Tiangong-2 space station

China plans to launch a larger space station next year that will have the capability of being resupplied by robotic cargo ships.

The Tianzhou-1, which literally means “heavenly vessel”, will carry propellants, living necessities for astronauts, research facilities and repair equipment to China’s second orbiting space lab Tiangong-2, said Zhou Jianping, chief engineer of China’s manned space program.

Cargo transportation system is a key technology China must master and make breakthroughs to build its own space station, said Zhou who is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top political advisory body….

According to Zhou, Tianzhou-1 will be blasted off on top of a next-generation Long March-7 rocket, possibly from a new launch site in the southern Hainan Province.

Research on the Long March-5 carrier rocket – to be used to lift the Tiangong-2 lab into space – Tiangong-2’s payload, and selection of astronauts for the mission are currently “progressing in an orderly manner,” Zhou said.

Tiangong-2 will be larger than its predecessor and will resemble the Salyut space station first flown by the Soviet Union in the 1970’s. It will have docking ports on both ends.

Meanwhile, Zhou says that while China has no plans to send astronauts to the moon for the time being.

“With China’s current technologies of manned space flight and moon probe, we have the technology basis to realize the manned lunar mission,” said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space program.

Zhou…said that challenges and a lot of preparation precede the realization of the manned lunar mission.

For example, it requires the research and development of a bigger carrier rocket and the bigger and more sophisticated manned spacecraft, he added.

 

China Outlines Space Station, Moon and Mars Plans

The crew of Shenzhou-10 after 15 days in space. (Credit: CNSA)
The crew of Shenzhou-10 after 15 days in space. (Credit: CNSA)

Lei Fanpei, chairman of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), have given journalists an outline of the China’s plans for it space program over the next 15 years:

China hopes to put a rover on Mars around 2020, complete a manned space station around 2022 and test a heavy carrier rocket around 2030, a top space scientist revealed Sunday.

A feasibility study on the country’s first Mars mission is completed and the goal is now to send an orbiter and rover to Mars….

The Tiangong-2 space lab will be launched around 2016 along with the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft and Tianzhou-1 cargo ship. Around 2018, a core experimental module for the station will be put in place.

By around 2022, China’s first orbiting space station should be completed. It will consist of three parts — a core module attached to two labs, each weighing about 20 tonnes.

A powerful carrier rocket is essential for a manned moon landing.

The rocket is envisaged as having a payload capacity of 130 tonnes to low Earth orbit. Once in service, it will help with missions between 2030 and 2050, and secure China’s position in terms of space exploration and technology.

 

China Launches Lunar Sample Return Precursor Mission

4M payload (Credit: LuxSpace)
4M payload (Credit: LuxSpace)

China has launched a spacecraft to the moon designed to pave the way for a future lunar sample return mission.

The spacecraft, launched today aboard a Long March 3C rocket, will circle the moon and then re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere in a test of its navigation system and heat shield. It is a precursor for the Chang’e-5 sample return mission set to launch around 2017.

The Long March 3C upper stage, which will also loop around the moon, is carrying LuxSpace’s M4 payload. The payload includes an amateur radio beacon and a radiation sensor.

“This is the first ever privately funded mission to the moon and it happens 45 years after the first landing on the moon,” saide Jochen Harms, managing director of LuxSpace.

M4 stands for Manfred Memorial Moon Mission. The mission honors Manfred Fuchs, the founder of  LuxSpace’s parent company OHB, who died 0n April 26, 2014.

Chinese Move Forward With Space Station Plans

China's Tiangong-1 space laboratory with a Shenzhou spacecraft approaching it. (Credit: CNSA)
China’s Tiangong-1 space laboratory with a Shenzhou spacecraft approaching it. (Credit: CNSA)

Chinese officials say they are looking to complete a permanent, multi-module space station in Earth orbit in about eight years, according to media reports.

The plan calls for the launch of the Tiangong-2 space lab around 2016. The three-person Shenzhou-11 spacecraft and Tianzhou-1 automated cargo freighter will dock with the space station.

Around 2018, China plans to launch the core module for a larger space station that will be completed around 2022, officials said.

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Is China Planning Test of Human Lunar Vehicle?

shenzhou1Toward the end of the year, China will launch a spacecraft to the moon that will return for a soft landing on Earth.  Officially, this is a test of a ship that will return soil samples from the moon, but Morris Jones suspects there’s more to it than that:

This analyst also suspects that China is also testing technology for a future Chinese astronaut launch to the Moon. The re-entry capsule is a scale replica of the capsule used on China’s Shenzhou astronaut spacecraft.

China has not released a lot of information on the mission, and has not even revealed any diagrams or photographs of the entire spacecraft. We have seen the re-entry module in photographs, but little else….

We believed that China would fly this mission in a free-return trajectory to the Moon. This meant that the spacecraft would fly around the far side of the Moon and use the Moon’s gravity to sling it back to Earth.

This mission profile was used by the Soviet Union’s “Zond” lunar probes, which were themselves tests for a cosmonaut launch to the Moon that never happened. A free-return trajectory was also used to bring the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission back to Earth.

Recently, a story published by China’s state news agency Xinhua gave a different perspective. It claims that the spacecraft will actually enter orbit around the Moon.

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