Launch 2020: China’s Space Program Continued to Surge with a Number of Firsts

Long March 3B lifts off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center. (Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Group)

China’s surging space program showed no sign of slowing down last year as it tied its own launch record and moved ahead with ambitious space missions and a set of new launchers.

China compiled a record of 35 successes and four failures in 2020. That matched the number of launch attempts made in 2018, a year that saw 38 successes and a single failure.

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Launch 2020: A Busy Year Filled with Firsts in the Face of COVID-19 Pandemic

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

SpaceX dominated, China surged and Russia had another clean sheet as American astronauts flew from U.S. soil again in a year of firsts.

First in a series

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a very busy launch year with a number of firsts in both human and robotic exploration. A total of 114 orbital launches were attempted, with 104 successes and 10 failures. It was the same number of launches that were conducted in 2018, with that year seeing 111 successes, two failures and one partial failure.

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Long March 5B Stage Reenters North of Maldives as NASA Administrator Nelson Criticizes Chinese Actions as Irresponsible

Long March 5B launches the Tianhe space station core module on April 29, 2021. (Credit: CASC)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A Chinese Long March 5B reentered the Earth atmosphere on Sunday over the Indian Ocean north of the Maldives, ending more than a week of global anxiety that the massive booster could spread debris over a populated area.

The 18th Space Control Squadron confirmed the 21-metric ton stage reentered the atmosphere and fell into the ocean north of the island chain at latitude 22.2, longitude 50.0 on Sunday, May 9 at 0214 UTC. There have been no reports of injuries.

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Out of Control Chinese Rocket Threatens to Scatter Debris Over Populated Area

Long March 5B launches the Tianhe space station core module on April 29, 2021. (Credit: CASC)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Until the advent of the reusable Falcon 9, most first stages of rockets fell into the ocean, on the lightly populated steppes of Kazakhstan (Russian launches from Baikonur), or crashed beside and even into rural villages, throwing up huge clouds of toxic propellants in the process (Chinese launches).

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Delta IV Heavy, Chinese Space Station Launches on Tap for This Week

A Delta IV Heavy launches the NROL-44 satellite. (Credit: ULA)

The month of April is concluding with a string of launches from Russia, the United States, China and South America. Things kicked off on Friday with SpaceX’s launch of Crew-2 to the International Space Station (ISS). On Sunday, a Russian Soyuz rocket launched 36 OneWeb satellite broadband spacecraft from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East.

One of the final United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rockets is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Monday afternoon. That flight will be followed by the fifth launch of China’s Long March 6 booster. Launches by Europe’s Vega and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets are scheduled over the next two days.

China will close out the month on Thursday by launching Tianhe-1 core module for that nation’s first permanent space station aboard a Long March 5B booster.

The full schedule for the week is below.

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Move Over ISS, China’s New Space Station is Launching Soon

Artist’s conception of China’s Tianhe-1 space station. (Credit: China Manned Space Engineering)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In a few short weeks, the International Space Station (ISS) will no longer be the only station in Earth orbit.

China plans to launch the Tianhe core module core module of its first permanent space station aboard a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site. Spaceflight Now‘s launch calendar has the flight taking place on April 29.

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Hong Kong PolyU Explores Use of Peptides in Data Storage for China’s Next-Gen Human Spacecraft

A PolyU research team led by Dr YAO Zhong-ping, Associate Professor (right), Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology and Prof. Francis LAU, Professor of Department of Electronic & Information Engineering, has developed a novel technology for massive data management involving the use of peptides, which has been developed to optimise data storage for space exploration in China’s next-generation manned spacecraft in the new Long March-5B rocket. (Credit: Hong Kong Polytechnic University)

HONG KONG (PolyU PR) — With the huge amount of digital data generated and recorded during space missions, the data storage devices currently used for this purpose reveal great limitations in terms of their data storage capacity and the durability of the retained data.

To meet this challenge, a team of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) researchers has developed a novel technology for massive data management involving the use of peptides, which has been developed to optimise data storage for space exploration in China’s next-generation manned spacecraft in the new Long March-5B rocket.

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Bridenstine Criticizes Uncontrolled Long March 5B Stage Reentry

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In a statement on Friday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the uncontrolled reentry of the core stage from the recently launched Chinese Long March 5 could have fallen on U.S. cities before reentering over the Atlantic Ocean and west Africa.

“The empty core stage of the Long March 5B, weighing nearly 20 tons, was in an uncontrolled freefall along a path that carried it over Los Angeles and other populated areas. As a matter of fact, had this spent rocket stage, which is the largest uncontrolled object to fall from low-Earth orbit in almost 30 years, reentered earlier, it could have hit New York. Two villages in Cote d’Ivoire have reported finding what they believe to be debris from the fallen rocket.

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Chinese Next-Gen Spacecraft Lands After Orbital Flight

A Chinese next-generation crewed spacecraft landed on Friday after a nearly three-day automated flight in Earth orbit.

Pictures from Chinese media showed the capsule descending under three parachutes. The vehicle had made a high-speed reentry from a final orbit of 523 x 6,278 km (325 x 3,901 miles) to simulate a return from deep space.

The new spacecraft, which will carry up to six astronauts, is intended to replace the three-seat Shenzhou spaceship now in use. China will use the new vehicle for operations in Earth and lunar orbit.

A Long March 5B launched the spacecraft into Earth orbit on Tuesday from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island. It was the maiden flight of Long March 5 variant, which will be used to launch elements of China’s first permanent space station next year.

Long March 5B has a core stage with four strap-on boosters. It lacks the upper stage of the Long March 5, which is used to send communications satellites to geosynchronous orbit and probes to the moon and planets.

Chinese Long March 5B Launches Next-Gen Crew Vehicle

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In a crucial step forward for China’s human and robotic spaceflight programs, a Long March 5B booster conducted its maiden flight on Tuesday carrying a prototype of the nation’s next-generation crewed spacecraft.

China’s most powerful rocket lifted off at 1000 GMT (6 p.m. local time) from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island. Chinese media have reported the launch from the nation’s southern spaceport was successful.

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Long March 5B Booster Arrives in Wenchang for First Flight in Mid-April

Long March 5 on the launch pad. (Credit: China National Space Administration)

BEIJING, February 7, 2020 (CASC PR) — Only one month after the successful launch of the Long March 5 and Long March 3 rockets, another member of the Long March 5 rocket family, developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), started its first journey.

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