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.

Read the full story.

China Looks to Recover Booster Stages

Long March launch
Long March launch

Last week, China Space News published a short article on efforts by engineers to recover rocket boosters for later reuse. Based on a Google Translate version of the original article, it sounds like they are pursuing an approach quite different from SpaceX’s propulsive landing system.

The article quotes an engineer has saying the recovery approach involves attaching paraglider-type “wings” to the booster that would allow it to glide to a soft landing. This technology has reached the “experimental verification stage.”

Future steps include powered flight tests. The article indicates that the development process is estimated to take about four years.

Here’s a link to the original article in Chinese.

China & Russia Sign Space Pact, But What Will It Produce?

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

With ties with the United States frayed over Ukraine, Russia has rushed to deepen its ties with China. Everyone’s favorite Josef Stalin-loving deputy prime minister was in China last week to lay the foundation for deeper cooperation in space.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin has followed last week’s rhetorical bombshell — that Russia was not interested in extending operation of the International Space Station, or ISS, beyond 2020 — by trumpeting a future of increased cooperation with the emerging Chinese National Space Agency.

Meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Deputy Prime Minister Wang Yang, in Beijing on Monday, Rogozin announced on Twitter that he had signed “a protocol on establishing a control group for the implementation of eight strategic projects.” In a later Facebook post, he said “cooperation in space and in the market for space navigation” were among the projects.

The partnership appears to be aimed largely at post-ISS cooperation. China has plans to place a multi-module space station in orbit by 2020 to which Russia could contribute.

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Virgin Galactic’s Ban on Selling Tickets to Chinese Citizens

SpaceShipTwo ignites its engines on the third powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo ignites its engine above Koehn Lake on its third powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

It was a great story while it lasted, one full of spies, technological espionage, Cold War-style fears, and super power rivalry. And then the story turned into something far stranger.

The news broke two weeks ago that Virgin Galactic is turning away would-be space tourists from China. The reason: strict U.S. export restrictions known as ITAR that are designed to prevent the transfer of sensitive technologies to hostile foreign nations. Visions of Chinese spies signing up for flights and stealing the secrets to this new technology filled numerous news stories in the week that followed.

There was only one problem: the story appears to be only half true.

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China Enjoyed Stellar Year in Space

Yutu rolls out onto the moon. (Credit: CNSA)
Yutu rolls out onto the moon. (Credit: CNSA)

China had a highly successful year in space in 2013, sending a second crew to live aboard the Tiangong-1 space station in June and becoming only the third nation to successfully soft land a spacecraft on the moon in December. As the year ended, the Yutu rover had completed its first exploration of the lunar surface and had entered a hibernation period for a long lunar night.

With increasingly sophisticated spacecraft, a reliable stable of Long March launch vehicles, and ambitious plans for the future, China has made itself a major player in the international space arena as space agencies in the United States and Europe face budgetary pressures and Russia struggles to revive a once formidable space program.

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SXC Targets Growing Chinese Market for Lynx Flights

sxc_logoAn update on SXC’s expansion into Asia, where it is targeting the growing number of wealthy Chinese adventure travelers:

Chinese travellers will be able to undertake space trips by 2014 end following an agreement signed here Friday between a Chinese travel agency and Netherlands-based space tourism firm.

Travellers will have to pay a minimum of 580,000 yuan (about $95,000) to board the Lynx Mark I spacecraft produced by the US private aerospace company XCOR, Xinhua reported citing Zhang Yong, chief executive officer of Dexo Travel, a Chinese travel agency focusing on high-end travellers.

SXC announced its expansion into Asia in July with an event in Hong Kong. A division of the company named SXC Asia led by CEO Alex Tang is responsible for sales and marketing initiatives in the region.

Chinese Land Rover on Moon

Yutu rolls out onto the moon. (Credit: CNSA)
Yutu rolls out onto the moon. (Credit: CNSA)

UPDATE: The Yutu rover has rolled out onto the moon.

China successfully soft landed a vehicle on the surface of the moon today, becoming only the third nation to accomplish this feat and the first to do so in 37 years.

The Chang’e-3 lander touched down in Sinus Iridum with its Yutu lunar rover. Yutu will be deployed for a three-month exploration of the surface. The lander and the rover each possess a sophisticated suite of instruments.

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Long March Failure Destroys Chinese-Brazilian Satellite

long_march_launch

UPDATE, 12/10/13:  Space News is reporting the failure was caused by an unspecified malfunction in the rocket’s third stage. The vehicle’s builder, the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, is investigating.

The failure of a Long March 4B rocket has destroyed the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite (CBERS-3).

“There was a malfunction of a launch vehicle during flight and hence satellite positioned in orbit has not been provided. Preliminary evaluations suggest that the CBERS-3 has returned to the planet,” according to a statement posted on the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI) website.

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