Category China in Space


Tiangong was China’s first space laboratory. The Chinese explained that there would be a second occupation of Tiangong, after which the laboratory would be de-orbited in the Southern Ocean, away from the shipping lanes. Its thrusters would fire for long enough to take it out of orbit: most of it would bum up but any fragments that made it through re-entry would impact harmlessly. Tiangong would be followed over the next five years by Tiangong 2 with 20-day visits and then Tiangong 3 with 40- day visits and a regenerative life-support system [4]. Tiangong 3 would be resupplied by an unmanned cargo craft based on Shenzhou, in the same way as Russia adapted Soyuz as the Progress cargo vehicle. This third station would orbit up to 450 km and would spend up to 10 years in orbit.

At 12 days’ duration, Shenzhou 9 doubled the length of the previous longest Chinese spaceflight. Although other countries, especially Russia, had made long – duration missions for many years (one cosmonaut spent 438 days in orbit), China lacked its own database on the effects of weightlessness. In anticipation, ground tests had been carried out, the focus being on bed-rest and head-down tilt experiments to simulate some of the effects of weightlessness. A 60-day bed-rest and head-down tilt experiment was carried out in 2007 in a three-sided project between the astronaut training center, the French space agency CNES, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Twenty-one men participated, the effects being lower cardiac activity accompanied by a loss of bone density and muscle mass. Countermeasures were developed during a 30-day bed-rest and head-down tilt experiment with 14 men in 2009 during the course of which they exercised with a bicycle, wore penguin suits,

ONTO A PERMANENT SPACE STATIONand used negative pressure equipment, with positive results. Separately, using rats, experiments were conducted using traditional Chinese medicines, especially taikong xiele to slow bone and muscle loss [5].

As the design and building of Tiangong proceeded, China began work on a permanent station, something on the lines of the Soviet Mir space station. In the early 2000s, China issued illustrations of a station comprising a core block and three 8.5-tonne Tiangong-class modules, totaling 38 tonnes, with a permanent crew of three. This model was quite similar to the original design of the Mir space station, but much smaller than Mir in its final form (120 tonnes), still less the ISS (450 tonnes). The core block would be launched from a new launch site on Hainan Island in 2020, with Tiangong modules, manned Shenzhou spacecraft, and unmanned freighters flying up from Jiuquan. The station would orbit between 400 and 450 km, 42°, for 10 years. From time to time, the station would dip to 380 km, to facilitate the arrival of Shenzhou spacecraft. It would then be boosted back to altitude; 2023, the solar maximum, would be a trying year, for increased atmospheric density would require numerous orbit-raising maneuvers.

The design of the space station was modified in 2011 to become something more ambitious. New designs issued by the office of China Manned Spaceflight Engineering showed something much more on the scale of the ISS. First up would be the base block with a six-port node and robotic arm, followed by a small module

Table 1.2. Scientific platforms planned for large Chinese space station, 2020.

• Space Exposure Experimental Platform, with robot arm, for experiments in radiation biology, materials science, new components and materials, astronomy, space physics, and environment;

• Variable Gravity Experimental Platform, providing opportunities for experiments in biology, complex fluids, material science, and medicines from 0 to 2 G;

• High Temperature and Combustion Science Experimental Platform;

• High Microgravity Level Experimental Platform, for experiments in laser cooling atomic clocks, the verification of gravity, the equivalence principle, crystals, fluid science, laser and optical diagnostics, and colloidal crystals;

• Life and Ecology Experimental Platform, a greenhouse for cell and tissue cultivation, to cultivate plants, raise animals, and to test the disposal of waste gases and water;

• Protein Engineering Experimental Platform, for experiments with protein macromole­cules, liquid and gas diffusion, protein structures, and functions.

with solar panels, not unlike the Kvant module on Mir. The first occupation by a Shenzhou crew would take place next, with resupplies by unmanned cargo craft. Next would come a truss structure on which four huge solar panels would be attached. Four large laboratory modules would follow. There would be an airlock module from which numerous space walks would be based. A notable feature of the plan was that large solar panels would be added at the earhest possible stage, so that there would be sufficient power for the specialized modules.

As for the scientific experiments to be carried out in 2008, the Chinese Academy of Sciences had begun work on China’s scientific goals, subsequently published as Roadmap 2050 [6]. This outlined six science “platforms” to be installed on the station, comprising the instrumentation for the specialized modules. These are listed in Table 1.2.

An early priority was what was called the “cosmic lighthouse”, a 3-tonne external platform to survey the sky for dark matter and dark energy. Seven candidate projects were under consideration:

• large-scale imaging and spectroscopic survey facility, to study dark energy, dark matter, and the large-scale structure of the universe;

• high-energy cosmic radiation facility, to study the properties of dark matter, the composition of cosmic rays, high-energy electrons, and gamma rays;

• soft x-ray and ultra-violet all-sky monitor to study x-ray binaries, super­novae, gamma ray bursts, active galactic nuclei, and the tidal disruption of stars by supermassive black holes;

• x-ray polarimeter, to study black holes, neutron stars, accretion disks, and supernova remnants;

• galactic warm-hot gas spectroscopic mapper, to study the Milky Way, interstellar medium, and missing baryons in the universe;

• high-sensitivity solar high-energy detector, to study solar flares, high-energy particle acceleration mechanisms, and space weather; and

• infrared spectroscopic survey telescope, to study stars, galaxies, and active galactic nuclei.

Additional experiments were planned in optical and electron microscopy, diffractive and florescent analysis, mass spectrometry, confocal laser scanning microscopy, and interferometry. As for the yuhangyuan themselves, a range of experiments were planned in:

• psychology of crew and individual performance in an isolated, confined, and hostile environment;

• first aid, space sickness, immunity, and telemedicine;

• physical resistance to weightlessness, addressing bone loss, atrophy, and cardiovascular deconditioning;

• resistance to radiation hazards, cancers, gene mutations, and pharmacolo­gical protectors;

• Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems: food production, the balance of oxygen and nitrogen, the recycling and regeneration of water;

• fire safety – prevention, detection, control, and suppression.

Even as Tiangong was circling the Earth, China began work on the construction of the elements of this permanent station. First of all, a 12-m-tall, 7-m-diameter component-testing facility was built. One of the first items to be tested was a remote arm, for girders and remote arms had proved an important feature of the Mir space station. Harbin Polytechnical University, with Beijing Robot Research Centre, obtained funding under a horizontal research program called 863 for the development of a remote arm for the space station. It was much smaller than comparable Russian or Canadian projects, being of human size, with 96 sensors, 12 motors, four fingers each with four joints, and the ability to lift 10 kg. It could use screwdriver and spanner-type instruments and, according to its inventors, could even play the piano!

These designs and plans set the scene for an ambitious program of manned space exploration. But key to their ultimate success was the first-ever laboratory: Tiangong in 2012. The three missions are summarized in Table 1.3 and the chronology of the space station is shown in Table 1.4.

Table 1.3. Tiangong missions.



Tiangong 1

29 September 2011

Shenzhou 8

31 October 2011

Shenzhou 9

16 June 2012

References 27

Table 1.4. Chinese space station: chronology.

Year Event

1992 Russian-American agreement on ISS

1998 Start of construction of ISS

1999 Government approval of space station project; first designs

2000 Cooperation agreement between China and Russia extended to space stations

2011 Launch of Tiangong; rendezvous and docking by Shenzhou 8

2012 First occupation of Chinese space station by crew of Shenzhou 9 [2] [3]


China has developed two families of launchers – the Long March, known as the Chang Zheng (CZ), and the Feng Bao (FB, or Storm). The Long March family is divided into seven series – Long March 1, 2, 3, and 4, which have flown, with 5-7 forthcoming (these future launchers will be considered in Chapter 10). The Feng Bao launcher was used from 1971 to 1981 for the JSSW series and Shi Jian 2 (see Chapters 2 and 7), when it ended service and is not considered here; neither is the Long March 1, used for the first two launches, but not subsequently. The Chinese are visually helpful in enabling us to identify their rocket launchers, for their white – painted rockets invariably have the launcher type painted in big red letters in large English script on the side after the Chinese pictograms for “China” and “Hangtian”, the latter meaning “space” or “cosmos” in Chinese.

Although, to an outsider, all rockets, being rocket-shaped, appear to have the same means of propulsion, in fact there are many important distinctions between them. First, rockets may use either solid fuel or liquid fuel. Solid-fuel rockets operate on the same principle as fireworks. A gray sludge-like chemical is poured into a rocket container. When the nozzle is fired, the stage bums to exhaustion. Solid rockets are very powerful. Their main disadvantage is that they cannot be turned off – they simply burn out. They are less precise and less safe.

Liquid-fuel rockets are more complex. They have two tanks – a fuel tank and an oxidizer. Both are pressurized and fuel is injected, at great pressure, into a rocket engine where it is ignited. On liquid-fuel engines, the level of thrust may be varied (throttled) and the engine may be turned off and restarted. This system is complex but more versatile and, from a manned-spaceflight perspective, safer. Liquid-fuel rockets may be divided into three sub-categories, according to the type of fuel used. Most Russian and American civil rockets have used kerosene (a form of paraffin) as a fuel. These are powerful fuels, but they degrade if they are kept in a rocket for more than a few hours at a time. If a launching is missed, the fuels have to be drained and reloaded – a tedious and time-consuming process. From the 1960s, Russian and American military rockets began to use storable propellants, generally based around nitric acid or nitrogen tetroxide and UDMH (unsymetrical dimethyl hydrazine). The

advantage of storable propellants is that they can be kept at room temperature in rockets for long periods before they are fired – a necessity when military rockets must be kept in a constant state of readiness. The disadvantage is that such fuels are highly toxic, presenting hazards for launch crews and horrific consequences in an explosion. In 1960, a Soviet R-16 missile exploded at Baikonour cosmodrome. Ninety-seven engineers, supervisors, and rocket troops died in the ensuing fireball, but the level of casualties was made much worse by the toxic nature of the exploding fuel. It remains the worst rocket disaster in history. Finally, there is the use of liquid hydrogen as a fuel. Liquid hydrogen is enormously powerful, but has to be kept at extremely low temperatures. China has favored the use of storable propellants for main stages, with small solid-rocket boosters for the final kick to 24-hr orbit. The Chinese introduced a hydrogen-fuelled upper stage with the Long March 3 in 1984.

Now follows a description of each of China’s main launcher families. As with many aspects of the Chinese space program, this compilation is a hazardous exercise. Precise technical details of Chinese rockets vary slightly from one publication to another. Designators vary even more, especially when it comes to rocket engines.


Successful launches



























Successful launches to orbit to 30 June 2012.

For example, the YF-20 engine when clustered as a first-stage engine is called the YF-21; when used as a second-stage engine, it is called the YF-22, but when linked to YF-23 vernier engines, it is called the YF-24! Table 3.3 shows launches by launcher type.

Communications satellites

Communications satellites are an important line of development of the Chinese space program. In 1984, China launched its first communications satellite – the beginning of a series that has brought television and modern communications to the whole Chinese landmass. This began the Dong Fang Hong series of communications satellites, now at Dong Fang Hong 4, with numerous derivatives (e. g. Feng Huo, Tian Lian). China attempted to open its space program to launching Western satellites, but this became the occasion of a prolonged and acrimonious stand-off with the United States which continues to the present day. Despite this, China has launched several comsats for foreign customers, like Nigeria and Venezuela, with more to follow.


Zi Yuan, Huanjing, Tansuo, and Tianhui focused on land masses. In the meantime, China had been working on a series of satelhtes devoted to maritime observations. These would require a quite different set of instruments. The potential of maritime observations had been well known ever since the American Seasat, the Franco – American Topex/Poseidon and Jason, and the Russian Okean. Theoretical work had been undertaken in China in the 1970s. The concept was especially promoted by Jiang Jing Shan, who had seen the other examples and managed to obtain project 863 funding in the 1980s. The program was eventually approved in 1997 [14]. It was developed for the Science and Technology Department of the State Oceanic Administration and planned as the first of a series of regular launchings of observation satellites able to photograph the ocean in three-dimensional color images. The aim of the series was to monitor the seas, tidal zones, offshore sandbanks, and the marine environment, picking out pollutants and sand pouring into the sea. In particular, it would focus on China’s coastal seas (Bohai, Huanghai, Donghai, and Naihai).

The first satellite, Haiyang 1 (later called Haiyang 1A), the Chinese word for “ocean”, was brought into orbit on 15th May 2002 as a companion of Feng Yun 1-4 (see above). Haiyang was a small (1.2 x 1.1 x 1-m), 365-kg oceanographic satelhte using the CAST968 bus. The original orbit with Feng Yun 1 was not suitable for Haiyang so, during the last week of May, a motor lowered Haiyang’s altitude to an operational height of 792-795 km, 100.7 min.

Haiyang had a 10-band three-dimensional ocean color and temperature mechanical scanner made in Shanghai with a swath of 1,164 km, resolution of 1,100 m, a revisit time of three days, and a four-band push-broom Charge Couple Device CCD camera made in Beijing of 500-km swath with 250-m resolution and a seven-day revisit time. The aim was to observe the oceans for chlorophyll,
plankton, fluorescence, sediment, temperature, ice and pollution, chlor­ophyll concentrations, surface tem­peratures, silting, pollutants, sea ice, ocean currents, and aerosols. It crossed China from 08:35 to 10:40 every morning, making observations while downloading data from the 2­GB memory tape recorder over a 22­min period at 5 MB/sec [15].

The original program envisaged a test satelhte with a two-year lifetime

(IA) before an operational satellite

(IB) . The satelhte was a success and relayed back high-quality images, from the Strait of Qongzhou to Mexico Bay. Haiyang 1 focused on the Bohai Sea, the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea, and the South China Sea, operating for 685 days to April 2004, making 830 surveys. Four problems were revealed by this test mission. First, its solar cells did not last as long as hoped. Second, the Chinese were not happy with the level of glinting of the Sun on the ocean’s surface and set the equator crossing time back from 10:00 am to 10:30 am to get a better angle on the next satellite. Third, memory was insufficient, so the next satellite was equipped to download not one, but five sets of data during each overpass. Fourth, the swath was too narrow and

Haiyang, China’s pioneering oceanographic was increased to 3,000 km. satelhte. The operational Haiyang IB was

duly launched on 11th April 2007, with a three-year lifetime, three times greater data capacity, higher resolution, greater tolerance to temperature and vibration, 10 computers, and improved solar cells. Its mission was to monitor the temperature of the ocean, track pollution, watch coastal development, and study environmental changes. It flew at 798 km, with weekly repeater orbits.

Like Huanjing, we have a good volume of information on the Haiyang program. Color sea temperature maps were published, such as an average sea temperature map for the Pacific north-west, ice levels and thickness in the Bohai Sea (which freezes for three months every winter), and river sediments entering the oceans. Maps of the

intersections of warm and cold waters have indicated where fish Uke mackerel, squid, and scad may be found. Hiyang made it possible to make estimates of the biological productivity of the ocean, a vital component in the carbon cycle – a slow and tedious process to undertake from ships – presenting not just maps of the seas around China, but a global productivity estimate. Estimates were made of the carbon dioxide partial pressure in the Yellow Sea so as to begin a model for the ocean carbon cycle. Wind and wave maps of the seas between the Philippines and Indo-China were published. Detailed maps were published of both green tide and red tide infestations, both of which had the potential to damage the marine environment, fishing, and tourism (the 2008 green tide affected the Olympics regatta in Qingdao). Sea ice updates were provided. Color maps were published of suspended sediment in the sea around costal zones. The Haiyangs were able to collect data that measured the level of phytoplankton, benthic plants, and autotrophic bacteria in the seas – indicators of the biological productivity of the ocean. The strength of winds and typhoons was measured and wave heights were calculated to 6 cm. Such information would have been infinitely slower and more costly to obtain from sea-based monitoring. In April 2012, it was announced that Haiyang data would soon be available on the internet from the country’s oceanographic administration, presumably on a system like that of CBERS.

Haiyang marked an important advance in remote sensing for China but, according to the program leaders, Jiang Xingwei and Lin Mingsen, China still lagged behind other countries. There was still much to be done to improve accuracy and extend the application of the data [14]. A three-type series was announced. While the Haiyang 1 series concentrated on ocean color monitoring, the Haiyang 2 series would use microwaves to monitor the dynamic ocean environment, while the Haiyang 3 series would use Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) for surveillance and

mo 105 по 115 120 125 150 155 140 145 150 \ ( )

Sea temperature map off the China coast, from Haiyang. Courtesy: COSPAR China.

monitoring of the ocean with a mixture of continuous and single-look monitoring with a grid antenna. Next in the Haiyang series would be a duo of Haiyang 1C (morning passes) and ID (afternoon passes).

The first of the next series, Haiyang 2 (also called 2A), was launched on 15th August 2011. A month later, over 15th-17th September, Haiyang 2A maneuvered to a holding orbit of 911-929 km, 99.36°, 103.38 min, before, on 29th September, reaching its final, almost circular orbit of 965-968 km, 99.37°, 104 min, and it was declared operational the following 2nd March. It was announced that, for the first two years, it would follow a 14-day cycle and then a 168-day cycle with a five-day sub-cycle. Its aims were to follow pollution and topography in shallow waters, ocean winds, waves, currents, tides, and storms. Its instruments comprised a microwave radiometer to measure ocean temperature, wind speed, and atmospheric vapor; a dual-frequency Ku and C-band radar altimeter to measure sea level, wind speed, and ocean height; and a radar scatterometer pencil – beam radar to measure wind speed and direction and to monitor ocean conditions. Cross-measurements between them should eliminate any inconsistencies in data. The scatterometer was the achievement of Jiang Jing Shan, who had seen how successful it was on Europe’s ERS satellite and the American Seasat. His design had two rotating antennae, horizontal and vertical. It was designed to measure wind speed within 2 m/sec and wind direction within 20° in a swath of 340 km [16]. It was announced that future missions would follow in 2012 (2B), 2015 (2C), and 2019 (2D).

In addition, China plans a joint oceanographic mission with France: CFOSAT (Chinese French Oceanic Satellite), whose objective is to monitor wind and waves globally for the purposes of marine meteorology (especially severe events), ocean dynamics, climate variability, and the surface processes. Taking advantage of French

CFOSAT, with France, a world leader in oceanography. Courtesy: CNES.

experience in such missions as TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason, and Megatropiques, it is intended to improve knowledge of sea-surface processes, waves, and sea ice, especially in coastal areas. There are two main microwave radar instruments: the Surface Waves Investigation and Monitoring instrument (France), which will not measure wave height, but direction, amplitude, and wavelength; and a scatterometer supplied by China with six rotating beams designed to hit the waves at an angle that can measure their frequency. Launch is set for 2015 on the CZ-2C with data transmitted to both countries. The series is summarized in Table 6.8.

Table 6.8. Haiyang series.

Haiyang 1A 15 May 2002 CZ-4B, piggyback with Feng Yun 1-4

Haiyang IB 11 Apr 2007 CZ-2C

Haiyang 2 15 Aug 2011 CZ-4B

All from Taiyuan.


The most substantial challenge of project 921 was the manned spacecraft itself. Appointed chief designer was a person then unknown outside China (and probably little inside China either). Qi Faren, born in Fuxian, Liaoning, in 1933, represented the main design team from CAST, assisted by the Shanghai Academy of Space

The Shenzhou design: unlike Soyuz, there are double sets of panels. Courtesy: Mark Wade.

Technology (SAST). He had graduated from the Beijing Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in the historic year of 1957 and, 13 years later, was involved in the building of China’s first satellite, Dong Fang Hong. He then went on to lead the Dong Fang Hong 2 and 3 programs and the Feng Yun 2. He was appointed general designer and leader of project 921 in 1992, with 1,000 scientists and engineers under his command.

At first sight, Shenzhou looks like the Russian Soyuz, a design going back to 1960. Like Soyuz, Shenzhou comprises a service or propulsion module, descent cabin, and orbital module. The service module contains four re-entry rockets with variable thrust (2,500 N, 150 N, 25 N), 28 maneuvering engines with variable thrust (150 N, 5 N), two solar panels, and radiators to discharge heat. The headlamp­shaped, sometimes called beehive-shaped, descent module has room for three, possibly four, crewmembers. It has a 65-cm hatch at the top, two portholes, a sighting window, and two parachutes (main and reserve). The orbital module, at the front, has two solar panels, maneuvering engines, two portholes, and room for a scientific package on the front. The cabin is designed to provide the astronauts with air, a temperature of 17-25°C, and humidity of 30-70%. For all its similarities with Soyuz, there were differences:

• Shenzhou is larger: 9.15 m long compared to 6.98 m;

• Shenzhou is wider, at 2.8 m in diameter, compared to 2.6 m;

• Shenzhou is heavier, at 7.79 tonnes compared to 7.2 tonnes;

• Shenzhou has solar panels reckoned to deliver up to three times more power than Soyuz: 1.53 m wide, span 17 m at the back, and placed not only the on the service module (24 m2), but also on the orbital module, span 10.4 m (although the latter were not deployed on Shenzhou 1 and 7);

• the orbital module is heavier (2 tonnes), can be left in orbit for independent flight, and has four groups of four maneuvering engines; it is longer than Soyuz: 2.8 m compared to 2.2 m;

• the descent module is slightly larger: 2.517 m in diameter (Soyuz was 2.17 m) and longer (2.5 m compared to 1.9 m), but has the same aerodynamic shape, with a volume of 6 m3;

• the propulsion or service module is 2.94 m in length and 2.8 m in diameter, compared to Soyuz’s length of 2.3 m and diameter of 2.2 m; it has four engines, compared to a single one on Soyuz;

• the escape tower is similar: 7.16 m long, diameter from 33 cm to 70 cm [3].

In other words, Shenzhou follows the general configuration of Soyuz but is far from a copy. The Chinese themselves made comparisons between Shenzhou and Soyuz. Overall internal volume is 13% larger, making Shenzhou, they say, larger, roomier, and better. It has a different docking system: an androgynous petal-style docking system, rather than the probe-and-drogue of Soyuz. Table 8.5 compares the two. As may be seen, Shenzhou is clearly influenced by the Soyuz design, but to describe it as a “copy” would be both inaccurate and unfair. The Chinese became sensitive to allegations of copying and at press conferences stressed that Shenzhou was “Made in China” (“Made in China” stated emphatically in English).

The Shenzhou fairing is 15.1 m long, 3.8 m in diameter, and it weighs 11.26 tonnes. Its tower can be ignited at any time from 15 min before launch to 130 sec after lift-off, when it is then fired free, while the shroud remains in place to 200 sec: its top motors can be used to pull Shenzhou free should an emergency develop during these later stages of launch. The escape system can be activated by the yuhangyuan, mission control, or by the automatic guidance system should it detect that the rocket is heading badly off course. Different combinations of its four engines can be used for escape below 39 km (the first three sets), 39-110 km (the second and third sets), and to whisk the tower away if still unused (the small top set). Escape at low altitude would be a memorable experience, pulling 20 G. A similar launch escape system was once used when a Soviet rocket exploded on the pad in September 1983. Cosmonauts Vladimir Titov and Gennadiy Strekhalov were grateful when it did indeed work as advertised. They had a bumpy landing but were very much alive. Development of the escape system proved to be one of the most difficult parts of the design and it took two years to make a successful test.

The escape tower might be called upon to work but, at the other end of the mission, the parachute of the descent module must always work. Here, the Chinese made the largest ever parachute for a returning manned spacecraft. The landing sequence would trigger as the descent module reached subsonic speed 15 km above



Complete spacecraft


7.8 tonnes

7.21 tonnes


9.15 m

6.98 m


2.8 m

2.6 m

Propulsion module


3 tonnes

2.95 tonnes


1.1 tonnes

900 kg


2.94 m

2.3 m


2.8 m

2.2 m


2.8 m

2.72 m

Solar panels

Two of 24 m2


Descent module


3.2 tonnes

3 tonnes


2.5 m

1.9 m


2.5 m

2.17 m

Orbital module


2 tonnes

1.3 tonnes


2.8 m

2.2 m


2.8 m

2.25 m

Solar panels

Two of 12 m2


* This is the TM version, which operated from 1986 to 2002. The current TMA-OM is larger.

the ground. First, the hatch cover is jettisoned and the pilot chute comes out for 16 sec to slow the module from 180 m/sec to 80 m/sec. Next, the deceleration chute comes out, slowing the cabin to 40 m/sec, bringing out the main parachute. This is a huge canopy, at 80 m tall, 30 m across, weighing 90 kg, with an area of 1,200 m2 – 20% broader than the Soyuz parachute, held by 100 25-mm-diameter cords, each able to bear a weight of 300 kg. Once it billows out, it slows Shenzhou to its descent speed of between 15 m/sec and 8 m/sec. The parachute is made of 1,900 pieces of thin strong fabric able to withstand high loads and temperatures of up to 400°C. Should something go horribly wrong, like the parachute twist or Roman candle, then a reserve parachute can be ejected. This is much smaller – 63% of the size of the main chute, at 760 m2. The heat shield is then dropped at 5 km. But, assuming all is well, the final action takes place as the cabin comes in to land. Just 1 m above the ground, a gamma detector senses the touchdown and fires solid-fuel retrorockets to cushion the final descent to 1 m/sec, simultaneously severing the parachute so that it will not drag the cabin in a high wind. Once landed, the cabin includes survival suits, sleeping bags, radio beacon, smoke generator, signal rockets, dye, mirror and compass, life raft, pistol, knife, first aid, and even shark repellant. The main beacon begins sending signals from the end of blackout at 243 MHz while the spacecraft is still 40 km up, while the astronauts themselves can erect two high-frequency transmitters once they land. They also have a beacon to transmit on the international emergency frequency of 406 MHz.

The orbital module is sufficiently large for basic comforts to be provided for the orbiting yuhangyuan. They can sleep in sleeping bags mounted on the wall. A sealed plastic tent is provided so that they may shower – a facility never provided on Soyuz. Developing the spacecraft took much longer and was much more difficult than expected. By 1997, it had got little further than the shell of the prototype in the workshop, to the extent that opponents of the project made a fresh attempt to have it canceled. A counter-proposal for an unmanned lunar program to replace Shenzhou reached the state council, but Prime Minister Zhu Rongji would not approve such a late, radical change of course. The engineers decided, meantime, to buy time by putting into orbit a minimalist prototype, with an all-up version to follow later.

China’s ambitions

This final chapter looks at China’s space ambitions, focusing on the construction of the new cosmodrome on Hainan Island and the new Long March 5, 6, and 7 launchers. The chapter looks at whether we may expect China to send astronauts to the Moon and further afield and, if so, when? Other areas of Chinese technological development are discussed, such as space shuttles and advanced engines. This chapter looks at the Chinese space program in its global perspective (e. g. size of program, budget) and analyzes its key characteristics, features, focus, and rationale. Finally, there is speculation on its future lines of development to 2050.


If we define a space power as a country or block able to put its own satellite into orbit, the world has 10 space powers: Russia, the United States, France, Britain, Europe, China, Japan, India, Israel, and Iran. Of these, Britain and France no longer have a national satellite launching program, so the current relevant number is really eight (Britain cancelled its launcher program before its first successful mission, while France merged its launcher program with the European one).

Nevertheless, it is valuable to set the Chinese space program in a comparable international perspective, both over the whole period from 1957 and, for contemporaneity, the five most recent years (2007-11) and 2011, a landmark year (Table 10.1).

China therefore accounts for a tiny proportion of world space launches (2.8%). If we look outside the two leading superpowers, though, and focus on the minor powers, China then accounts for 30.76% of them – almost a third. What is more interesting is the changing order of launches. Russia has almost always been the leading spacefaring nation in terms of launches, followed closely by the United States and, some distance behind, Europe. In 2007, China overtook Europe as the third largest launcher and, in 2011, overtook the United States – two significant landmarks. By the end of June 2012, its mid-year total was only one launch behind Russia, with the United States trailing.








United States






























Looking at deep-space missions (the Moon, Venus, Mars, and beyond), six space powers have now launched deep-space missions: the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan, China, and India. Turning to geosynchronous orbit, only six countries have launchers able to reach 24-hr orbit: the United States, Russia, Europe, China, Japan, and, since 2001, India. China is consistently in the top league of the space nations.

Medieval rockets to first satellites

China has a long history in astronomy, astronautics, and rocketry. Although ancient astronomy began in Babylon, China was not far behind and has the longest history of continuous observing of any civilization. Eclipses were observed as far back as 2165 вс and records of stars can be found carved into bones dating to 1400 вс. A supernova was observed in Antares in 1300 вс and the first star catalogs were found in 350 BC, outlining the “mansions” of the sky, Uke western constellations. The first meteor showers were recorded in 687 BC. Comet Halley was observed in 467 BC and sunspots in 28 BC. The first sundials were made in 104 BC, the same year as the building of the first observatory, Zijin Shan (Purple Mountain) near Nanjing. A golden age of Chinese astronomy opened from the seventh century, when the emperor Yao commissioned the first star maps and calendar (AD 650). These star charts had 1,340 stars, 12 constellations, over-the-pole views, and used the Mercator system of projection [1]. China has a continuous history of weather records dating 3,000 years.

Chinese astronomy expanded rapidly in the second millennium, with instruments of great complexity such as clock drives, celestial globes, and equatorial spheres (1090-92). Song dynasty astronomers observed a pulsar, 0 Tauri, for 23 days from 4th July 1056. By 1150, the imperial library had 369 books on astronomy and a map of the Milky Way was made in 1193. In 1276, the Dong Feng observatory used a low wall to measure the precise distance to the Sun while Nankin observatory built the first telescope with an equatorial mounting. Perhaps the most intriguing feature of ancient Chinese astronomy was that, instead of Europe, where the sky was seen as a Umited, hemispherical orb, ancient Chinese cosmology (AD 336) conceived the universe as “infinite empty space” through which stars moved at speed. Both theoretically and practically, the Chinese were almost 1,000 years ahead of Europe.

The rocket – the word means “firing arrow” in Chinese – was invented in China. The ancient Chinese discovered the secret of gunpowder in the third century – some time between AD 220 and 265. The formula took 1,000 years to work its way westward, to reach England by 1248, where it was known to Roger Bacon (for the record, the formula is 50% niter KN03, 25% sulfur, 25% carbon). Gunpowder was fitted to the heads of arrows to explode on hitting their target and firecrackers were introduced for festivals at around this time. The use of gunpowder rather than the

B. Harvey, China in Space: The Great Leap Forward, Springer Praxis Books,

DOI 10.1007/978-l-4614-5043-6_2, © Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Medieval rockets to first satellites

Ancient Chinese astronomical instruments, seen here at Beijing Observatory.

bow to propel the arrow was invented by Feng Jishen in 970, making it the first rocket. Primitive rockets were used by the Song dynasty in 1083. Later, the Mongols learned to use these rockets and made them the basis of the expansion of their empire. When the Japanese invaded China in 1275, Kublai Khan fired rockets to drive them away.

The Chinese then began to put their rockets into launching tubes. The first of these, Flying fire spear, used a paper container and was introduced in 1119. During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), these early Chinese rockets came into their own. They possessed the fundamental elements of modern rockets: a combustion chamber, firing system, explosive fuels, and fin guidance systems (feathers). The Ming histories reported that over 39 types of rocket weapons were in use and a group of rocket troops was formed. They had names to match their fearfulness, like Soaring flame bird, Burning crow, and Poison sand barrel, large bird-shaped missiles that exploded on impact, scattering fire and poison. Fire dragon over water was a 150-cm multi-stage anti-ship rocket with a range of 1 km. In the twenty-first century, engineers re-examined these missiles and confirmed just how aerodynamically stable they were [2].

Some of these rockets eventually found their way to India, where they were retrieved by British soldiers in the late eighteenth century and became the basis for

Medieval rockets to first satellites

Ancient Chinese rockets. China developed a broad range of devastating weapons.

their rocket troops that fired on Napoleon’s armies. More peacefully, a sixteenth – century inventor called Wan Hu designed a wickerwork chair with two kites above and 47 rockets underneath. Wan Hu disappeared in flame and smoke and was never seen again, but a crater on the Moon is now named after him, so in one sense he made it after all.


The Long March 2 was introduced with the recoverable satellite program (Chapter 4) and three versions are still in service:

1. Long March 2C, which introduced the FSW recoverable satelhte program in 1975;

2. Long March 2D, which introduced heavier, recoverable FSW satelhtes from 1992;

3. Long March 2F, used for Shenzhou and the Tiangong, also called Shenjian.

In addition, a heavy version, the Long March 2E, was used for Western communications satelhtes over 1990-95 (see Chapter 5). It flew seven times (with two failures) and is discontinued.

The Long March 2A made one flight in November 1974, the first attempt to put a recoverable satelhte into orbit. When it failed, the rocket was redesigned and called the Long March 2C. The Long March 2B was a canceled design for a version to carry a small payload to 24-hr orbit. The original role of the Long March 2C was to put recoverable satelhtes into orbit, the FSW series (see Chapter 4). As such, it put 14 satelhtes into orbit over 1975-93, all successfully (one was not recovered, but that was not the fault of the launcher). During a typical mission, the Long March 2C rocket begins to pitch over into its flight trajectory 10 sec after lift-off. Staging takes

Tractors pull the CZ-2C down to the pad – quite different from Soviet rail practice.

place at exactly 2 min: it is a hot staging, with explosive bolts detonating the now – expired first stage, which falls away a second later. Twenty explosive bolts fire to separate and release the fairing over the payload at 230 sec, the second-stage engine completes its burn, and the payload is released at 569 sec. Telemetry relays back as many as 300 different parameters during launch.

The Long March 2C series might have ended in 1993 had it not been for the American Motorola company, which booked the Long March 2C for 11 double launches of its Iridium global telecommunications satellite (22 satellites altogether). The 2C was adapted with a longer second stage (2 m longer) and what is called a “smart dispenser” (SD), designed to spring the small comsats into orbit. The Taiyuan site was used for these flights, which flew into a new, higher orbit of 700 km at 58°E. This launcher is referred to as the Long March 2C-SD. A test of the SD was made on 1st September 1997, following which seven successful launches took place before Iridium filed for bankruptcy. A further refinement, the CTS was used for the Chinese-European Doublestar project in 2003. The launcher continued to operate for some time, experiencing a rare failure on 18th August 2011 when attempting to put into orbit Shi Jian 11-4. It transpired that the connection between the servo­mechanism and the second-stage vernier engine §3 failed during the later stages of the ascent.

The Long March 2D was introduced in 1992 to carry the heavier, third generation of FSW recoverable spacecraft, the FSW 2. The payload of the Long March 2D was 600 kg more, at 3,400 kg. The launcher was heavier (237 tonnes), with improved performance in a number of areas. With FSW 3-1 in 2003, a stretched version with fins was introduced, sometimes called the 2D2, and it used the new manned launch pad.

For China’s manned spaceflight, the Long March 2 was adapted and upgraded. Fifty-five engineering changes were made to make it capable of manned flight. President Jiang Zemin bestowed on it his own name, the Shenjian, or “magic arrow”, in 2002, though this is rarely used. The principal difference – and most obvious visual change – was the addition of an escape tower based on the Russian design for the Soyuz spacecraft. In the event of a mishap either on the pad or in the first 160 sec of flight, the tower fires, pulling Shenzhou rapidly high and clear of the rogue rocket. Once the thrust is exhausted (after only a few seconds), the cabin drops out of the bottom of the tower. This is a tricky maneuver, for the three Shenzhou modules must then separate very quickly, giving the descent cabin time to get free, deploy its parachute, and fill it with air. Four retardant panels are deployed on the tower to slow its fall and avert the danger of its tangling with the cabin. All this must be done in seconds. Assuming all goes well, the normal trajectory of ascent to orbit is 586 sec, at which point mission control in Beijing assumes control. The tower is jettisoned at
130 sec, the strap-ons at 160 sec, the fairing at 200 sec. For the Tiangong, the 2F was adapted to carry 8.7 tonnes, requiring a new launch shroud, but without the escape tower and numerous less-visible modifications. Details of the CZ-2 are given in Table 3.4.


Even as the Fanhui Shi Weixing (FSW) recoverable satellite program was under way, Chinese engineers moved on to a new, ambitious goal: putting satellites into geosynchronous orbit 36,000 km over the Earth. This program involved the building of a new launcher, the Long March 3, and a new launch site, Xi Chang. The single event that contributed most to this development was the visit of President Richard Nixon in 1972, which began the process of international recognition of communist China after years of isolation. At a practical level, the Chinese were amazed by the satellite television crews who followed the president’s every movement and beamed pictures back live to admiring American homes through their now well-established network of satellites in geostationary orbit. Shipping their pooled satellite van back home proved to be expensive, so it was left behind in China, like the calling card of visitors passing through.

There were several reasons why China should develop satellite-based commu­nications. Communications satellites offered the possibility of providing advanced telecommunications for a large country quite quickly. Quality telecommunication links were increasingly considered an essential feature of a modernizing economy. Communications satellites offered both direct television transmission (saving the establishment of elaborate systems of relays) and telephone lines (saving the setting – в. Harvey, China in Space: The Great Leap Forward, Springer Praxis Books,

DOI 10.1007/978-l-4614-5043-6_5, © Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

up of land lines) or a combination of the two. In the 1970s, the Chinese leased a number of Western satellite lines to test the potential of a space-based communications system and needed no further convincing.

SatelUtes circling at an altitude of 36,000 km over the Earth’s equator orbit every 24 hr thus appear to hover over the same point all the time. The value of such an orbital position was first appreciated by science writer Arthur C. Clarke, who, in Wireless World (1945, Iliffe and Sons), outlined how three such satellites could cover the entire planet. The Americans pioneered the use of the 24-hr orbit in 1965 with Early Bird. The 24-hr orbit is now quite crowded and elaborate arrangements exist both for the allocation of slots there and to ensure that dead satellites are taken out of that orbit and sent to less densely populated regions of the sky (graveyard orbits).

However, the 24-hr orbit presents its own problems. First, to reach an altitude of 36,000 km and enter a circular orbit, a powerful launcher and upper stage able to reach the final destination is required. Second, the 36,000-km orbit is over the equator, which means that the rocket must not only reach a great height, but also carry out a dogleg maneuver southwards to get there. While it is possible to reach 24-hr orbit on a conventional three-stage rocket, placing a sizable payload there requires more powerful fuels and/or a restartable upper stage.

The idea of a communications satellite for China was discussed and approved by the Central Committee in 1965. The China Academy of Launcher Technology (CALT) allocated staff for preliminary design studies of launchers and rockets in 1970. The Chinese considered the development of a low-Earth-orbiting system first, Uke the American Telstar, and also considered the idiosyncratic but highly effective Soviet Molniya system of satellites which orbit the Earth every 12 hr with an apogee slowly transiting the northern hemisphere. However, they opted to go straight for a 24-hr system, despite the difficulties. Progress was impeded by the cultural revolution and the project progressed little until the Nixon visit and when Zhou Enlai convened design conferences in 1974. What finally tilted the argument was the danger that slots in 24-hr orbit allocated by the International Telecommunications Union to China (87.5°E, 98°E, 103°E, 110°E, and 125°E) would be lost unless taken up – a prospect to which Zhou had been alerted in a handwritten letter by four technicians in the Ministry of Posts & Telegraphs. In February 1975, the State Planning Commission approved the Report Concerning the Question of Development of This Country’s Satellite Communications. Pressed by Deng Xiaoping, Mao Zedong gave the project the go-ahead in April 1975, along with the code of project 331, and it was probably his last decision on the space program. Conceptual design took place over 1975-77 and the first engineering model of the new satellite was built in 1979. Italy was invited to install a 3-m dish to receive signals from its Sirio satellite and thereby test the reception of signals. Deng Xiaoping, a vocal proponent of the project because of its practical benefits to China, was in such a hurry that he separately initiated two years of negotiations to buy a communications satellite from the United States in the meantime, but they came to nothing.

The need for a powerful launcher prompted the Chinese to consider the use of a hydrogen-fuelled rocket. Hydrogen, while having considerable advantages in terms of thrust (50% more than conventional rockets) and environmental friendliness, is a difficult substance to handle. It must be cooled to a temperature of -253°C and its oxidizer to -183°C. This in turn requires very strong metals, for conventional alloys will turn as brittle as glass under such temperatures. The fuels and oxidizer evaporate quickly on the pad and have to be continuously topped up right to the moment of ignition. Liquid hydrogen has a rate of seepage 50 times higher than water. This area of work is sometimes referred to as cryogenics technology.

The Americans experienced great difficulty with introducing a hydrogen-powered upper stage in the 1960s (the Centaur) and the Russians did not operationalize such technology until 1987 (Energiya). Not only that, but restarting any rocket stage for a second burn has always proved a persistent problem in rocketry, for the engine must be restarted in zero gravity, without the normal forces that push propellants into the combustion chamber. The Russians had lengthy problems with their Molniya and Proton upper stages failing to restart, expensive Moon, Venus, and Mars probes becoming stranded in low Earth orbit as a result.

During a feasibihty study in 1974, the Chinese weighed the options of using a conventional launcher and a hydrogen-powered third stage. COSTIND director Ren Xinmin, educated in Michigan until he returned to China after the revolution, fought a hard battle to convince his colleagues of the long-term benefit of mastering this difficult technology. Despite the challenges, the Chinese decided in August 1976 to go for the most ambitious system – a hydrogen-powered restartable upper stage. The Chinese began their first work on liquid hydrogen in the Liquid Fuel Rocket Engine Research Institute in 1965 but the first tests were not run until 1974.

The Long March 3, introduced for the new comsats. Courtesy: Cindy Liu.

The new rocket, called the Long March 3, was the biggest so far constructed in China – 43.25 m tall, 3.35 m in diameter, 202 tonnes in weight, with a take-off thrust of 280 tonnes. The first two stages were adapted from the Long March 2, but the real test was the hydrogen-powered third stage, the H-8, and its new engine, the YF-73, whose principal designer was Wang Zhiren, one of China’s few prominent women rocket scientists. Developing the YF-73 was troublesome and time­consuming, taking over seven years, including an explosion in January 1978 which led to injuries and some fatalities.

The transfer to geosynchronous orbit required a complex set of maneuvers. First, the upper stage is placed in a low Earth orbit, typically at around 215 km. On its first southbound pass over the equator, generally about an hour later and over 160°E longitude, the hydrogen-powered upper stage is fired to raise the high point of the orbit, the apogee, to 36,000 km, the altitude of geosynchronous orbit. This burn requires the highest level of energy and achieves what is called the Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). Then the low point must be raised and the inclination changed from 28° to 0°. Several of the key operations take place when the rocket is well outside the line of sight of Chinese ground control. Chinese computers lagged far behind Western and Soviet ones in the late 1970s – China could not obtain the latest computer technology – so modernizing them was a huge challenge. The final maneuver was carried out by an apogee kick motor – a small, solid-fuel rocket that would be used to adjust the satellite’s elliptical GTO into a circular geostationary orbit.

The apogee motor: although small in size, its role was crucial in the final stage of the journey to geosynchronous orbit.

A related problem to that of the launcher was how to reach equatorial orbit from a launch site with a high latitude (Jiuquan was 41.1°N). Other countries solved this problem by setting up launch sites on the equator, as France did in its colony of Guyana, while, more exotically, a Russian-Ukranian-American consortium converted a Norwegian oil rig into a launching platform and towed it to the mid­Pacific (Sea Launch). The Chinese landmass lies some distance north of the equator. By establishing a new site much closer to the equator in southern China, some of the burden of reaching equatorial orbit could be reduced – 18.5% compared to Jiuquan, to be precise. Accordingly, a new site was found, at Xi Chang, at 28.25°N, coincidentally at a similar latitude to Cape Canaveral.

Xi Chang, though much closer to the equator, had its drawbacks. The launch site is in hilly country, which must have imposed additional construction costs. Climatically, temperatures are more clement than Jiuquan, ranging from -10°C to + 33°C. The site has excellent dry weather from October to April but May to September may see downpours and thunderstorms. It is also far from deserted, being surrounded by villages. Virtually all the other launch sites in the world are either on the coast or located in inland desert, thereby reducing the risk of civilian casualties to a minimum – but this was not the case with Xi Chang.

Construction at Xi Chang, showing gantries and the slimmer lightning towers.

The first communications satellite, set atop the CZ-3. Courtesy: Cindy Liu.

The satellite itself was a drum, 3.1 m tall and 2.1 m in diameter, with an apogee motor underneath and two receiving and broadcasting antennae on top. The satellite was called Shiyang Weixing (“experimental satellite”), identified subsequently as the Dong Fang Hong 2 (“2” presumably in deference to the first Earth satellite, which was “1”). Launch mass was 916 kg but, by the time the apogee kick motor had fired, the weight of the satellite on station would be 420 kg. Its essential function was to receive transmissions from the ground with a high-gain antenna, to amplify them, and, using two transponders, to retransmit them on a spot beam focused on China itself. Solar cells generating 315 W were fitted on the outside of the drum. The most difficult part was the design of the de-spin system: whereas the satellite itself was spun at 50 revolutions per minute (to maintain its stability and ensure that it was evenly exposed to solar rays), the antenna system had to point in a fixed direction. Chief designer was Hangzhou-born mechanical engineer Hu Haicheng (1928-2011).


The first Yaogan was announced on 26th April 2006 without forewarning as a satellite for “surveying, crop monitoring, disaster forecasting and other forms of remote sensing”, a formula used on all subsequent launches. The launcher used was the CZ-4B from Taiyuan, its weight 2.7 tonnes, and the builder was SAST. The original orbit was polar at 97.8°, 603-626 km, then raised to almost circular at 623­626 km.

The second launched on 25th May 2007 but this time on the CZ-2D from Jiuquan and with China’s first pico-satellite, MEMS, 1 kg, built by Zheijiang University for micro-electronics research. This was a cube covered in solar panels, with infrared sensor, s-band receiver, and camera. In a debris-reduction measure, the second stage was quickly de-orbited. Yaogan 2 raised its orbit a few days after launch but made no further maneuvers – a pattern that became typical. The two Yaogans appeared to fly in tandem, 120° apart.

Using two different launchers and two different launch sites for the same spacecraft struck Western observers as strange. The most likely explanation was that the Yaogans were a military system in which two satellites operated in tandem, one being optical and the other radar (Japan had a similar system called IGS, Intelligence Gathering Satellite) [17]. The radar satellite would be larger and heavier, at about 2.7 tonnes, requiring the CZ-4 out of Taiyuan, while the fighter optical satellite would use the CZ-2 out of Jiuquan. The optical satellite would transmit photographs digitally, replacing the recoverable film method used on the FSW series, while radar gave China the ability to image the Earth both at night and through cloud. In fact, China had outlined the idea of radar and optical satellites operating in tandem in 2004, with a start date of 2005, albeit for civil purposes. The radar system was believed to have a resolution of 1.5 m.

The third launch was the first on the new CZ-4C from Taiyuan, presumably to replace Yaogan 1. To confirm this impression, the Russian space journal Novosti Kosmonautiki published a photograph of Yaogan 3, clearly supporting a large radar array. A system of radar-optical pairs, one flying in close succession to the other, appeared to be in evidence. For example, Yaogan 4 flew on a CZ-2D from Jiuquan on 1st December 2008 into an orbit of 634—652 km, 97.9°, and was presumably an optical mission. Yaogan 5 followed on a CZ-4B from Taiyuan only two weeks later on 15th December 2008, launched in conditions of extreme cold, at -29°C, in a wintertime take-off. This marked a departure, for it used a lower altitude (488­494 km), not that different from Zi Yuan, presumably to get better resolution on targets. Yaogan 6 was also from Taiyuan, but moved from an initial orbit of 486­521 km, 97.6° on 22nd April 2009 to 511-523 km on the 29th. Coming so quickly after the missions at the end of the previous year, it is possible that an earlier one failed (presumably the optical mission), but it was unusual for a CZ-2 to fly from Taiyuan (it is possible that its normal pad in Jiuquan was not available). The lower orbit of Yaogan 5 may not even have been intended.

What appeared to be the next set of pairs was Yaogan 7 and 8, flown in quick succession in December 2009. First was Yaogan 7 into 623-659 km, 97.8° orbit from a CZ-2D from Jiuquan, back into the traditional orbit and presumably an optical mission. Then fresh interpretive problems started. Its presumed radar pair, Yaogan 8 took a quite different profile, a much higher orbit of 1,192-1,204 km, 100.5°, on a CZ-4C from Taiyuan. Not only that, but it deployed a small 50-kg amateur radio satellite, the Xi Wang (“hope”). One explanation was that it was trying to fly above the risky debris at lower altitudes, caused by the Chinese destruction of the Feng Yun. The much higher altitude was a puzzle, for it was too high for either optical or radar observation – but typical of altitudes followed by American electronic intelligence satellites (elints) to detect electromagnetic or radar signatures. In light of what was to follow, this is the most likely explanation.

Yaogan 9 followed only three months later on 5th March 2010, also into a high orbit of 1,083-1,100 km, a little below Yaogan 8, but a quite different inclination of 63.4°, one typical of the earlier FSW satellites. Sharp-eyed ground observers spotted, in formation with it, two small unnamed maneuverable satellites – a pattern developed by American ocean electronic surveillance satellites to triangulate signals from ships at sea, so it may have been similar. Yaogan 9 was the first to use a powerful CZ-4 from Jiuquan – another first and more reason to suspect a different purpose. So Yaogan 8 and 9 may have been an electronic intelligence pair.

There was a return to the traditional radar-optical pair with Yaogan 10 and 11 in August-September 2010. Yaogan 10, the radar carrier, launched on a CZ-4C from Taiyuan on 9th August 2010 into a 607-621 km orbit, 98.7°, maneuvering on 23rd August to an 628-629 km operational orbit. Yaogan 11, its optical pair, followed on 22nd September on CZ-2D from Jiuquan. This time, China announced that two 3.5-kg subsatellites had been deployed. Called Pixing, they were built by Zhejiang University and had a single camera to test Earth imaging. Yaogan 11 orbited 90° apart from Yaogan 7.

Winter 2011 saw another set of double launchings: Yaogan 12 on 9th November and Yaogan 13 on 29th November. Yaogan 12 rode a CZ-4B out of Taiyuan, presumably the radar pair, but this was complicated because Yaogan 13 took the CZ-2C out of Taiyuan as well. A television picture of Yaogan 13 on China TV showed a box-like satellite with solar panels, but no sign of radar. The CZ-2C would, presumably, not have the lifting power for a radar satellite, so the other possibility is that this was an optical mission for some reason shifted from Jiuquan to Taiyuan. Yaogan 12 brought up a subsatellite, Tianxun 1.

Yaogan 14 flew in spring 2012, carrying a technology satellite called Tiantuo (“space pioneer”). Using a CZ-4B, it was imagined to be the first radar satellite of a radar-optical pair – but Yaogan 15, only two weeks later, was similar to the earlier Yaogan 8 at 1,200-km altitude and most likely used for electronic intelligence.

Here, the Jian Bing (JB) designator system used by the Chinese to categorize the FSW missions (see Chapter 4) resurfaced. The Chinese attached the title Jian Bing 5 to the Yaogan series, with many subsets (e. g. JB-7, radar; JB-8, optical; even JB-10 and many variations on this have also been published, most persuasively by Novosti Kosmonautiki). In the end, the best approach is probably to apply the same types of analyses as followed by Western students of the old Soviet military space program, which is to base interpretation on launching sites, launchers, payload weights, and orbital paths. This suggests that we are looking at three main sets of missions: radar missions, generally using the more powerful CZ-

4 from Taiyuan; optical missions, smaller satellites using the CZ-2 normally from Jiuquan; and a smaller group of electronic intelligence missions.

Between them, the Yaogans gave China a compre­hensive military surveillance system combining opti­cal, radar, and electronic intelligence. It also marked the system as more versatile than that of Russia, which by this stage was flying only one photo reconnaissance spacecraft a year: the Kobalt, using the old “wet film” technology. The other countries with operational radar capacity are Japan, the United States, Germany, Italy, and Israel, but not Russia (although it used to have radar ocean reconnaissance satellites, RORSAT, in the 1970s and 1980s).

What is not clear, though, is whether each optical – radar pair replaced or supplemented the previous pair. If the former were the case, this would indicate limited lifetimes or poor reliability. If, on the other hand, the Chinese have been constructing a constellation of many operating pairs, then they have a powerful observation system offering frequent revisits of sites of interest from multiple observation points.

A further problem, though, is to identify who is under Yaogan surveillance. American analysts em­phasize China’s interest in monitoring Taiwan and the strait between it and the mainland, whereas analyst Pat Norris points to its regional neighbors and China’s economic interests further afield, such as Africa and South America [18]. China’s point of view may not be that different from that of the old Soviet Union: surrounded by American military and surveillance bases, such as the Yang Ming Shan Intelligence Centre in Taiwan, Misawa and Kadena in Japan, and Osan in Korea, China may find the need to watch the people watching them overwhelming. The series is summar­ized in Table 6.9.

The CZ-2C used for the lighter Yaogan optical satellites.

Table 6.9. Yaogan series.

Yaogan 1

26 Apr 2006




Yaogan 2

25 May 2007




Yaogan 3

11 Nov 2007




Yaogan 4

1 Dec 2008




Yaogan 5

15 Dec 2008




Yaogan 6

22 Apr 2009




Yaogan 7

9 Dec 2009




Yaogan 8 Xi Wang

15 Dec 2009




Yaogan 9 5 Mar 2010 Two subsatellites



Ocean elint

Yaogan 10

9 Aug 2010




Yaogan 11 Pixing 1A, IB

22 Sep 2010




Yaogan 12 Tianxun 1

9 Nov 2011




Yaogan 13

29 Nov 2011




Yaogan 14 Tiantuo

10 May 2012




Yaogan 15

29 May 2012