Category China in Space


There was a gap of over four years between the launch of Shi Jian 1 (1971) and the next Chinese satellite (1975). In the event, the next series of satellites, which took place before the period of openness and modernizations, raised more questions than it answered. The series comprised three successful launches and three failures during the period 1973-76. The series has been mentioned but never described in the Chinese literature. In China, it was codenamed project 701. Construction of the Ji Shu Shiyan Weixing (JSSW) satellite had begun in early 1970 (hence “70” and “1”), although we know virtually nothing of its development or history. The program is important in illustrating early interest in the military application of satellites, the role of different design bureaus, news management, and the challenge of interpretation so, for these reasons, it is covered in detail.

Ji Shu Shiyan Weixing stands literally for “technical experimental satellite”. The term Chang Kong, or “Long Sky”, has also been applied to the series and in some places has been named Chang Kong 1, 2, and 3. JSSW may have been an attempt to develop a satellite for electronic intelligence gathering, then a dominant theme in the military satellite programs of the Soviet Union and the United States. No signals were ever heard abroad, so it is presumed that they transmitted only over China. The series took place at the same time as the development of the Chinese recoverable satellite program (Chapter 4) and, in the absence of information from China, the two series were confused several times (indeed, their orbital paths were not that different). When the first launching took place, the official, indeed bellicose, announcement appeared to confirm the military thrust of the program, stating that the satellite was part of “preparations for war”. The subsequent official history refers to the importance of the satellite entering a very precise orbit and small errors in perigee were simply not acceptable. Intriguingly, this was a familiar characteristic of some Soviet electronic ocean intelligence satellites so it is possible that the Chinese series had a similar purpose. Photographs of a cone-shaped satellite in the Shanghai plant were subsequently found that may be the missing JSSW [5].

Project 701 used a new launcher, the Feng Bao (“storm”), made in Shanghai and based loosely on the Dong Feng 5 missile. Responsibility for its development was assigned to the Shanghai #2 Bureau of Machinery and Electrical Equipment even though it had never built a rocket before in its life. There appear to be several reasons for the decision to build the new rocket in Shanghai. One was probably political – it was Mao Zedong’s power base and he probably liked to allocate pet projects there; a second was the desire to build the industrial base outside the national capital – Shanghai was the most advanced industrial city in the country; and a third may have been to follow the Soviet style of socialist competition in which design bureaus were encouraged to compete so as to drive up standards.

Despite its inexperience, the Shanghai team was resourceful in mobilizing the industrial and technological resources of the city and the region, using a research institute to build the rocket’s computer, the shipyards to weld its aluminum copper alloy tanks. In only 10 months, they built the Feng Bao, 192 tonnes in weight, 33 m tall, able to put 1,500 kg into orbit, the only Chinese rocket not in the Long March series.

The Feng Bao design was more ambitious, challenging, and demanding than the Long March and some aspects suffered from its rushed production. The first two launch attempts failed (18th September 1973 and 14th July 1974), but patience was rewarded on the third attempt. On 26th July 1975, the JSSW 1 entered orbit at 183— 460 km, 69°, 91 min. The launch announcement gave the barest details about the satellite (only orbital parameters), proffering instead a weighty political commentary on the current state of development of the proletarian revolutionary line. The 100-kg JSSW 1 decayed after 50 days in orbit, crashing into the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean on 14th September 1975.

JSSW 2 entered orbit on 16th December 1975. This time, the launch announce­ment did not even give the orbital parameters, instead providing more appropriate information on the struggle against Lin Biao and Confucius. JSSW 2 flew 70 km lower than JSSW 1 (186-387 km, 69°, 90.2 min), burning up in the atmosphere after only 42 days. JSSW 3 came nine months later, on 30th August 1976, flying much further out than its predecessors (198-2,145 km, 69.2°). Like its two predecessors, it weighed 1,110 kg. The launch announcement gave even fewer details about the satellite (only the date), paying more attention to its political significance (this satellite marked the struggle against Deng Xiaoping and the right deviationists). JSSW 3 decayed in 817 days. None of the three satelhtes maneuvered in orbit.

The final JSSW launch took place on 10th November 1976, but it never reached orbit. The JSSW program then closed. This may have been because it did not achieve the intended results. Officially, they were technology test satellites, but it is not clear what technology was tested or how it was subsequently applied. Enquiries about them meet with cagey responses even to the present day. There have been two occasional glimpses of what the missions might have been. American aerospace experts visiting Shanghai Huayin Machinery Plant in 1979 were shown a domed cylinder 2.5 m tall, 1.7 m in diameter, weighing 1.2 tonnes, with 1 x 2-cm solar cells. They were told that China had launched three of them, each with 10-day missions – which fits the JSSW profile – but no more. A tantalizing slide along these lines was presented by a Chinese official giving a lecture in Stockholm in 1992. Many years later, the series remains obscure, the Western consensus being that their probable purpose was electronic intelligence. UnUke the case of the Soviet Union, where hitherto obscure missions have come out into the open through the histories of the design bureaus, this has not been the case in China. JSSW must have been important, for six were launched, even though only three reached orbit. The JSSWs set a standard for mystery, for later subsequent military missions such as the Yaogans and Shi Jian 6 and 11 series (Chapters 6 and 7) were to prove no less tantalizing.


So, just how reliable are Chinese rockets? Tables 3.7 and 3.8 list the record of Chinese launch failures and stranded satellites since the start of the program. Table 3.8 lists failures by rocket type, dividing them into failures to reach Earth orbit and failures to reach final geostationary orbit (strandings).

Table 3.7. Chinese launch failures.

Launch failures

18 Sep 1973

Feng Bao

Ji Shu Shiyan Weixing

Second-stage failure

14 Jul 1974

Feng Bao

Ji Shu Shiyan Weixing

Second-stage failure

5 Nov 1974

CZ – 2A


First-stage failure

10 Nov 1976

Feng Bao

Ji Shu Shiyan Weixing

Second-stage failure

28 Jul 1979

Feng Bao

Shi Jian

Second-stage failure

21 Dec 1992

CZ – 2E

Optus B-2

Satellite broke up at 51 sec

25 Jan 1995

CZ – 2E

Apstar 2

Exploded at 70 sec

14 Feb 1996

CZ – 3B

Intelsat 708

Failed at 2 sec

18 Aug 2011


Shi Jian 11-4

Second-stage failure

Stranded satellites

29 Jan 1984


Shiyan Weixing

Loss of thrust at 3 sec

28 Dec 1991


Shiyong Tongbu Tongxin Weixing 5

Third-stage failure at 58 sec

29 Nov 1994


Zhongxing 6 or 6A

PKM failure, reached GEO, abandoned

18 Aug 1996


Zhongxing 7

Third-stage failure

Table 3.8. Chinese launch failures by rocket type.

Totals Fails

Reliability Notes











0% First mission failure, redesigned as CZ-2C




97% First loss, 2011














Three stranded on third stage




One stranded on third stage




95% First launch loss













To 30 June 2012. Launchers still in service appear in italics.

There has always been a strong emphasis on quality control in the Chinese space


Thus, over the period from 1970 to 2011, China had nine outright launch failures out of 173 attempts (giving an overall 95% reliability rate); but there were four further instances in which the insertion into geosynchronous orbit was either wholly or partially unsuccessful. As may be seen, five of the launch failures took place during the first 10 years of the program, when incidents of this kind were most likely. The two Long March 2E failures of 1992 and 1995 were contentious, with the customer insisting on using his own final stage, which may have contributed to the accident. Three rockets were lost on their maiden flights – the Long March 2A, the Feng Bao, and the Long March 3B – and maiden flight losses generally account for a third of all first-time launching failures worldwide, so this outcome is well within international norms. Indeed, India continued to experience problems in introducing its Geo Stationary Launch Vehicle (GSLV), with two failures in 2010. What is more relevant in judging rehability is reliability in recent years: from 1996 to 2011, China had 106 straight launch successes in a row, in Une with the best performance of its leading rivals (e. g. Europe’s Ariane 5).

The most likely failure point is not a rocket blowing up in the early stage of a

mission, but in the final stage of reaching 24-hr orbit – a feature of other space programs. It has still frustrated the Chinese that these problems have emerged in a program that has always had a strong commitment to quality control and testing. Because Chinese space budgets are restricted, the program can afford exploding rockets and satellites breaking down much less than others. Each launch costs at least ¥10m, leaving aside the value of the payload. Accordingly, there is a strong emphasis on quahty control and rigorous ground testing, considerable resources being so invested. The Chinese have introduced a “testing pyramid” of checking individual components, combined parts, and each system as a whole.


Barely had the Long March 3B triumphantly returned to flight than China became embroiled in an acrimonious dispute with the United States – one heralding a long period of difficult relations that persists to the present. In June 1998, the House of Representatives voted 409:10 to set up a nine-strong special committee to investigate the transfer of space technology to China and appointed as chairperson California Republican Christopher Cox. The investigation arose from rising concerns that China had taken advantage of its contacts with the American space industry to acquire information useful for the construction and targeting of ballistic missiles and specifically that the satellite companies had insufficiently protected their satellites in transit to the launch pad. Hughes satellites used advanced technology arrays that could be used for electronic signals gathering, so there was perceived to be a high risk of technology transfer.

The setting-up of the investigation prompted bitter but largely inconclusive debates in Washington. Strictly speaking, the debate revolved around whether China was engaged in spying, obtaining classified information, applying it to an aggressive military rocket program, and compromising security-slack American companies in the process. In practice, the debate was a proxy for a broader political debate about American pohcy towards China and whether that should be one of containment (as it was prior to 1972), one of varying degrees of engagement (as it was under Nixon, Reagan, and Bush), or one of hostihty and confrontation. To complicate matters further, American commercial launcher companies stood to gain from the revoking of satellite export licenses to China. By contrast, the satellite manufacturers wished to deliver satellites on orbit to their customers at the lowest possible price: Chinese prices were much lower – but their lobby was quite weak in comparison. The picture was unusually partisan, for launcher companies were reported to make campaign donations to the Republicans and the satellite companies to the Democrats. From 1994, President Clinton had faced a hostile Republican Congress under Newt Gingrich which eventually impeached him. In the mid-1990s, the Republicans ran a spectacularly successful campaign to reshape China policy – one which endures to the present [2].

Cox’s report was massive, with 11 chapters covering missiles, satellites, computers, industry, and insurance. He painted a lurid picture of malevolent Chinese espionage going back to the day Tsien Hsue Shen fled the United States for Communist China, allegedly with American rocket blueprints. Although Tsien Hsue Shen had never been convicted of spying, Cox now determined that the charges against him were true. According to Cox, the Chinese had used, over decades and in a systematic way, fair means and foul, neutral scientific conferences, licensing arrangements, dual use military-civilian technologies, and straightforward spying to ferret out information on nuclear technology, computers, rockets, submarines, and atomic bombs. The satellite companies were attacked for exceeding the terms of their export licenses and carelessly giving away information that would enable China to improve the guidance systems of ballistic missiles – “treachery”, according to one congressman. In trying to fix the fairing failure that had caused the loss of the two CZ-2E rockets, the company concerned (Hughes) gave the Chinese information and advice that would help them in the development of warheads. When the Long March 3B exploded, the Chinese kept the Americans away from the crash site for five hours while they ransacked the American debris, stealing the encrypted chips on

Preparing a satellite for launch at Xi Chang. It was at this stage that the Americans believed that it was vulnerable to interference. Courtesy: US Congress.

the lost Intelsat 708, so it was alleged. Even though the Cox report was full of inaccuracies and errors, the inflammatory charges stuck.

The Cox report relied heavily on the “dual-use” argument, which was that information obtained for legitimate civilian purposes could equally be used for military: rocket guidance systems designed to put comsats in the right orbit could equally target nuclear warheads, for example. The concept of dual use is something which the Chinese understand. During the debate on the adoption of the manned space program, when arguments raged about whether China should prioritize military development or civilian science, Deng Xiaoping intervened to argue that technology should serve both. Such dialectical solutions to political problems were not uncharacteristic of the leadership, but did not necessarily mean a systematic campaign to obtain such technologies from abroad by deception.

Even before the report was published, the Congress made up its mind. It did not ban the export of satellites to China outright but, reclassifying them as munitions of war, transferred responsibility for their licensing from the Department of Commerce to the Department of State, to ensure that defense considerations were uppermost in licensing decisions, rather than trade. Comsats were put on what was called the United States Munitions List (USML), making them weapons of war and unexportable, later systematized as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The congressional decisions nevertheless had the politically desired effect of slowing satellite trade with China to a standstill. The Department of State did not have sufficient officials to process export licenses, so approvals slowed to waiting periods of 18 months or more, making flying satellites on Chinese launchers an unattractive proposition. Any export worth over $50m to China also had to get congressional approval in any case. Three Western satellites were still manifested to fly on the Long March at this stage and their customers quickly understood that if they were going to reach orbit, it would not be via China. The Long March 3B missions in 1997 were the last Western communications satellites launched by China

The main pad at Xi Chang. The Cox report effectively grounded the use of China’s launchers for commercial Western satellites. Courtesy: Cindy Liu.

for some time and the Long March 2E was never used again. The two satellite manufacturers, Hughes and Loral, were pursued through the courts and put under extreme pressure to admit liability, and they eventually made settlements with the Department of Defense. In the aftermath, Hughes, which went as far back as Howard Hughes in 1934, was taken over by Boeing and Loral bankrupted.

The Cox report had a long-term, venomous effect on American-Chinese relations. When the world space congress took place in Houston, Texas, in October 2002, the American government barred half the Chinese representatives from attending, either refusing visas or putting other bureaucratic obstacles in their way. Those who did attend were searched or closely followed by a dozen FBI agents hired to mind them. The head of the Chinese delegation, Luan Enjie, the director of the China National Space Administration, was left stranded on the Canadian border, forlornly awaiting a visa, and eventually returned home. It got worse. Allegations were made that China was a serial proliferator to hostile governments, such as North Korea, lased American satellites so as to blind them, and even mounted a cyberattack on NASA so as to exfiltrate data on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. According to the National Security Division of the Department of Justice, Chinese spying was extensive. The Great Wall Industry Company was sanctioned in 2006 for supplying equipment to Iran, these sanctions being eventually lifted in summer 2008. Its assets were frozen by the US federal government and it was forbidden from doing business with American companies. The lifting of the sanctions followed commitments to monitor its trading activities more closely and not to have any dealings with countries considered prohferation risks, like Iran.

The impact of Cox became evident in so many ways. When China’s first astronaut, Yang Liwei, visited the United States in 2004, he did so as a private guest and NASA could have no formal contact with him. In February 2008, a 72-year-old Californian and Rockwell engineer, Dongfan Chong, was indicted for passing technical information about the Shuttle to China, even though it was an unclassified program dating to the early 1970s. When the Chinese approached NASA about the possibility of having some experiments fly on the International Space Station (ISS), one leading congressman was having none of it and was quoted by the press as saying that he would not tolerate “a bunch of Nazis running around our space station”. When NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe was later asked about cooperation with China, he told journalists that he was happy to cooperate, but, he added stiffly, was bound by the rules laid down by the State Department.

The main consequences for China were not a highly visible diplomatic and media exchange, but commercial. As a result of the tighter export restrictions, a series of customers walked with their satellites, such as Atlantic Bird and Protostar, simply because they had American components. The Cox report had the desired effect: Chinese revenues from launching satellites fell from $148m in 1997 to $23m in 1999 and nil for each year 2000-05 in a global market worth between $1 bn in a weak year and $2.7bn in a good one [3].

One commercial area was spared. China was successful in 1995 in negotiating a deal with the Motorola corporation. It booked a series of Long March 2C launches to low Earth orbit for 22 of its revolutionary new global communications system of

Iridium satellites (the full system was 66 satellites). Iridium was a mobile phone system that by-passed masts, messages being passed on from one low-flying satelhte to another until it was downloaded to the appropriate point on the far side of the world. The actual phone, though, was quite large at a time when ordinary mobile phones were fitting into ever-smaller pockets.

The Long March 2C was adapted with a special dispenser (SD) for the Iridium system, able to launch Iridiums in pairs, and was renamed the CZ-2C-SD. Over 1997-9, China launched its Long March 2C-SDs six times, putting into orbit 12 Iridiums from Taiyuan. Everything went completely smoothly – until the Iridium project collapsed in bankruptcy in 1999. Ironically, granted the political exchanges over security, the Chinese-launched satellites were then taken over by the Department of Defense for its military communications network. Iridium’s other legacy was visual: although the Iridium satellites were not particularly large (between 650 and 670 kg in mass), they had a big solar panel, which, as it turned in orbit, created a bright 3-4-sec flash frequently visible from the ground in evening skies to astronomers and casual skywatchers. They became known as “Iridium flares” and watching them has amused many an amateur astronomer. The launches in the series are Usted in Table 5.4.

Table 5.4. Iridium series.

Demonstration Iridium 42, 44 Iridium 51, 61 Iridium 69, 71 Iridium 3, 76

Iridium 11 A, 20A Iridium 14A, 21A

All on CZ-2C-SD from Taiyuan.


The see-saw battle over China policy continued unabated between the White House and the Congress. Neither NASA nor the American scientific community had a particular axe to grind with China, while the international partners of the United States in space exploration did not share the same problems of doing business with China.

As far back as 1997, astronauts Shannon Lucid and Jerry Ross had visited China, but it was a private visit to a scientific conference. In the period immediately after Cox, anything more would have been impossible. The first NASA visit to China, which followed persistent Chinese invitations, came in September 2006, led by NASA administrator Michael Griffin. The six-person delegation included the head of space operations, William Gerstenmaier, and, for the second time, astronaut and Mir veteran Shannon Lucid, who had been born in and spent some of her youth in

Shanghai. Their five-day itinerary included space facilities in Beijing (the Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST) and the Beijing National Satellite Meteorological Centre) and Shanghai (Academy of Sciences Technical and Physical Research Institute, inspecting Chang e instruments) and originally included Jiuquan launch center (but the Americans declined when they learned they could only see the launch pads). The visit was permitted by the White House and State Department on the basis that it was exploratory, focused on scientific cooperation, and that discussion on participation in the ISS was off-limits (as a result, there was no visit to manned spaceflight facilities). Even then, there was congressional criticism of the visit to “an enemy”. The only concrete result was an agreement on data sharing from the forthcoming lunar missions of both sides, the Chang e and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. A second meeting took place two years later in July 2008 at deputy director level, where they agreed to establish a working group on Earth science.

Prospects for reconciliation brightened when Barrack Obama became president in January 2009, although it was clear from the start that both commercialization and the ISS would be off-limits – there simply was not the congressional support for either. On 22nd September 2009, two American astronauts, Fred Gregory and Tom Hendricks, visited China, to be entertained by astronauts Yang Liwei and Zhai Zhigang and others in training. The visit was organized by the non-governmental Space Foundation, thereby avoiding political comphcations for the administration. The American group was brought to visit CAST and was shown, in assembly, Tiangong, Shenzhou 8, and Chang e 2.

In November 2009, President Barack Obama signed an agreement with President Hu Jintao in Beijing formally agreeing cooperation in space science, human spaceflight, and space exploration. In October 2010, NASA administrator Charles Bolden visited China, followed by an industry delegation organized by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Bolden was welcomed inside the control center in Jiuquan, not reached by Griffin. Later, in summer 2011, the Obama administration sent proposals to the Congress for a unified licensing regime to operate through the Department of Commerce – one that would include commercial satellites and ultimately make it easier for satellites to fly on Chinese launchers.

Relations with China nose-dived once more in spring 2011 when congressman Frank Wolf, chairperson of the house committee for commerce, justice, and science, successfully inserted an amendment into the federal budget to ban all contact between NASA and the Chinese.1 He had long gone on the record as saying that

The text is: None of the funds made available may be used for NASA or the Office of Science and Technology to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese owned company unless such activities are specifically authorized by a law enacted after the date of enactment of this devision. The limitation shall also apply to funds used to effectuate the hosting of official Chinese visitors at facilities belonging to or utilized by NASA (minor editing for purposes of brevity).

NASA had no business cooperating with China. President Obama signed the budget because negotiations on it had proved extremely problematical and led to a stand-off between the Congress and the White House that went right to the wire, with the federal government coming to within hours of closing down. The Wolf clause, as it was called, not only prohibited NASA from any collaboration with China or Chinese companies, but prevented the use of funds to host Chinese visitors at NASA facilities. An immediate consequence was that Chinese journalists, who had arrived at Cape Canaveral to watch the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour with an experiment that included Chinese scientist Samuel Ting, were sent packing. Ting was a Nobel physics prize winner and a contributor the Alpha Magnetic spectrometer being launched by Endeavour, one of the most ambitious scientific projects on the ISS.

Space science

Despite having strong backing from the start, especially through the leadership of Zhao Jiuzhang, science has been a much lower priority than applications in the Chinese space program. The main early textbook of Chinese space science, Hu’s Space Science in China (1997, CRC Press), as well as other published sources (COSPAR reports, China Journal of Space Science), shows that, in the beginning, China relied heavily on secondary analysis of open-literature European, Japanese, and American missions, such as Exosat and Yohkoh. There has been only one dedicated science program in the Chinese space program as a whole – the Shi Jian series – but some of its missions have been used for non-scientific purposes. China also ran a successful mission with Europe – the Tan Ce, which is also discussed here. The Chinese appear to be well aware of their need to increase scientific activities, for many new science missions are planned. Space science has also found a place in the recoverable satellite program (Chapter 4), manned (Chapter 8), and deep-space programs (Chapter 9), where it is reviewed separately.


The objective of Shenzhou 6-а week-long flight by two astronauts – was announced the following year. The launcher and cabin were completed in June 2005 and shipped by rail to the launch site. Over 100 modifications were documented, compared to the earlier mission. A toilet, based on the system on Mir, had been added. The launch date leaked out in August, along with the names of the crews. Selected for the mission were Fei Junlong, aged 40, commander, and Nie Haisheng, aged 41, flight engineer. Backups were Wu Jie, aged 42, and Zhai Zhigang, aged 39, with, as support crew, Jing Haipeng, aged 39, and Liu Buoming, aged 39. The system for dealing with the press was more organized this time, with a proper system of accreditation put in place. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao arrived the night before the launch on 12th October 2005. President Hu Jintao opted to watch from mission control in Beijing.

Nie Haisheng was born deep inside China, in Yangdang, Zaoyang, Hubei, in 1964. His family was so poor and found such difficulty in paying for his education that he once had to give his teacher a rabbit in lieu of money. He borrowed textbooks, unable to afford any for himself, learning them by heart before returning them. Only two students from Yangdang Primary School made it to secondary school in his year and he had to work herding cattle through his holidays to pay his fees. He persuaded a visiting commissar to give him a chance in the Air Force. There, he excelled and was decorated for trying to save his plane when it spun out of control as a result of a compressor failure. He would not bail out until the last possible moment, but eventually did so, parachuting unconscious into a rice field.

Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng suited up in their Sokol suits, emerged from the preparation area, saluted, and reported to the base commander and, to applause from flower-carrying well-wishers, boarded the minibus to bring them down to the pad. Snow flurries were blowing as they entered the Shenzhou 6 cabin in darkness at 06:15. Live television coverage from Jiuquan began an hour before take-off and viewers could see the rocket still clamped in its gantry. With two minutes to go, the cameras settled on the rocket ready on the daylight pad. After a brief burst of brown and orange flame, the CZ-2F lifted slowly off the pad at 09:00. It rose steadily,

discarding debris at 25 sec and going into cloud at 45 sec. Pictures showed the two yuhangyuan in their spacious cabin.

The rocket emerged from the cloud and bent over in its climb to the north-east. The escape tower blew away in a burst of light. Look-back cameras installed on the side of the CZ-2F showed spectacular pictures of the boosters falling away and tumbling back over Gansu, where some of the fragments were later found by herdsmen. Television coverage alternated between the look-back views, the two men in the cabin, and mission control in Beijing and its screen showing the parameters of the flight path to orbit. In the event of a launch emergency, four downrange landing sites (Jiuquan east, Yinchuan, Yulin, and Handau) and three sea sites were marked (Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and Pacific Ocean).

At 09:13, Shenzhou 6 entered 193-337 km, 42.4°, 91 min, 31-repeater orbit over the Chinese coast, clearly visible below. As it crossed over the Pacific, television from the cabin flickered and was interrupted as Shenzhou was picked up by Yuan Wang 2. Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng waved to viewers and opened their faceplates. In the course of the first orbit, they were picked up in turn by the other Yuan Wang in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.

At 10:31, Kashi ground station acquired Shenzhou 6 as it came over western China. By 11:00, the two men were hungry after their early start and lunch break was declared. Shenzhou 6 had entered an elliptical orbit but, at 4:00 pm, on the fifth orbit, the path was circularized at the standard 343 km. At 17:31, Fei Junlong opened the hatch into the orbital module – an operation not carried out on Shenzhou 5 – so they now had the use of the two cabins. The mission settled down into a standard routine and, from that evening, the yuhangyuan spoke to their families in mission control. By this stage, they had taken off their spacesuits and put on their blue coveralls. Shenzhou carried 50 kg of oxygen in tanks: typically, each astronaut consumed 900 g of oxygen a day but exhaled 1 kg of carbon dioxide. Each astronaut drank 2.5 kg of water and ate 600 g of food worth 2,800 kcal a day. The suit weighed 11 kg and could last 6 hr in the event of a depressurization – enough time to return home. Television showed them writing their logs, eating, photographing the Earth, and moving about the cabin, making the occasional somersault. They spoke to President Hu Jintao.

On 14th October at 05:56, a second orbital correction was carried out on the 30th orbit to raise the perigee back to 343 km. In the event of an emergency return to the Earth, 13 sites were selected: in China, Sichuan, and Mongolia and, further afield, Australia, Arabia, North Africa, Western Europe, the United States, and South America. But the flight was uneventful and there was little to report as the mission progressed, even in the Chinese press (there was almost no coverage in the Western media). The official cost of the mission was reported in at ¥900m (€90m). They looked out for the Great Wall, reportedly visible from space, but didn’t see it, presuming that it blended in naturally with its surroundings. They brushed their teeth with a form of chewing gum developed as a mouth cleaner.

17th October was recovery day. Leading dignitaries arrived at the mission control center in Beijing. Shenzhou 6 rotated to the right attitude for its re-entry burn on the 80th orbit. On the ground, six helicopters and 14 cross-country vehicles

Shenzhou 6 crew in the cabin – much more spacious than Soyuz.

readied themselves at the primary landing site of Siziwang, Jiuquan being the backup site.

The cabin went into re-entry at 04:07, came out of blackout at 04:18, and was picked up on radar. The main parachute came out at 04:19, with touchdown at 04:33. It was still dark in the recovery area and the first helicopter arrived at 04:53, reporting that the cabin was upright. The recovery squad moved in. Fei Junlong emerged from the cabin at 05:38, followed by Nie Haisheng a minute later. By the time they were lifted out, a small crowd had gathered to cheer them. They were put into easy chairs and offered tea, chocolate, and noodle soup. The landing was covered live on TV, with an outside broadcast from the home of the two sets of relieved and tearful parents. It was later revealed that, in the event of things going wrong during re-entry, the cabin had a survivable black box (although it was orange) measuring 17 x 10 x 20 cm and able to resist 1,000° temperatures and 10,000 G.

The 75-orbit mission had lasted for 115 hr 32 min. The cabin was in good condition and handed over two days later to its builder, CAST, at Changping railway station. The cabin was later put on display in the small museum at the astronaut training facility. Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng reached Beijing at 09:28 on a special plane and were greeted by a band, flowers, and applause from well-wishers. Fei Junlong was promoted to General and was put in charge of the astronaut squad in 2012.

The mission of its orbital module continued, with occasional reports in the

Chinese press. After an initial period operating at 333-336 km, with occasional adjustments to maintain the 31-orbit repeater, on 21st January 2006 and 19th March, it raised its orbit back to a standard operating height of 343-356 km. On 28th May, after seven months, its orbit had fallen slightly to 337-339 km, so a small maneuver was made to raise it back to its operational altitude of 347-356 km. The decay rate was slow because of the solar minimum, which happened to be an exceptionally quiet minimum, causing much-reduced rates of friction in the upper atmosphere. A similar height-raising maneuver was made on 12th September. It raised its orbit on 7th February 2007 to 346-356 km, which had no obvious repeater. The orbit was raised again on 6th June 2007. Its mission eventually ended on 1st April 2008 after about 30 months. Reports on scientific experiments were not readily available and it is possible that they were not carried.


That was not all. The following year, it was learned that consideration was being given to a huge launcher of 3,000 tonnes, three times more powerful than even the Long March 5, the information being given by CALT vice-president Liang Xiaohong. This would put it in the same category as the American Saturn Y, the Soviet N-l, and the later Energiya rockets. This could have only one purpose: a manned lunar landing. Preliminary studies were begun on how to launch a manned lunar expedition, with nine options under consideration [9]. Over time, this rocket acquired the name of the Long March 9 (CZ-9).

A real problem for the Moon rocket was what engines to use. The new YF-100 and YF-77 engines planned for the Long March 5 were simply too small and lacked sufficient thrust. Faced with a similar dilemma in the 1960s, the USSR clustered together no fewer than 30 low-thrust engines for its N-l Moon rocket, but its unhappy history argued for a different approach. By contrast, von Braun’s huge high-thrust F-l engines for the Saturn Y, able to generate 670 tonnes of thrust, were a major contributor to American success in the Moon race. Since then, only one country had developed high-thrust engines: the Soviet Union’s RD-170 series engines for the Energiya rocket, each of which had a thrust of 740 tonnes (only four would be necessary). If China were to match the Saturn V or Energiya, its foremost rocketry exert Li Ping expressed the view that at least a fourfold improvement in thrust on the YF-100 was needed, up to 7,800 kN (700 tonnes) for the first stage, with a doubling of thrust on the upper stage to 2,500 kN.

Accordingly, in 2010, China began design studies of engines in the 300-500-tonne class of thrust, the top end probably being the limit of their capability, with a combined first-stage thrust of 3,000 tonnes. The Chinese emphasized that they wanted a rocket with a long production run, not like the Saturn V, of which only 13 flew, nor the Russian Energiya, of which two flew, nor the N-l (six completed). These studies obliged China to give detailed consideration as to how to best go to the Moon, for they were aware of the long debates on this in both the United States and the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, for this would affect the design. The initial design with 3,000 tonnes of thrust of the proposed new launcher marked it as less powerful than the Saturn V’s 3,470 tonnes and would have offered, with a single launch, only a minimalist lunar expedition (there and back, with up to three days on the surface).

There was little indication, though, that the Chinese were interested in a minimal landing and return, which indicated that the Chinese would make multiple launches so as to establish a long-term base from the start. Li Ping gave more details of the Moon rocket engines at the Xian Asian conference in 2012. There, he displayed a number of possible designs for the Moon rocket, which had a 9-m-diameter base (slightly smaller than the 10 m of the Saturn V), fuelled by either hydrogen or kerosene, with four kerosene-fuelled strap-ons, each of 3.35 m, the familiar diameter of large Chinese rockets, with a new hydrogen upper stage. The Chinese were considering not only the best method to get to the Moon, but how to return and the intricacies of a high-speed re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere [10].

Speculative Chinese manned lunar landing design. Courtesy: Mark Wade.

In summer 2012, the new rocket had progressed to technical studies, with two main options under consideration. The favored one had oxygen and kerosene engines, while the second had oxygen and hydrogen engines, with solid-fuel strap-on rockets. Four YF-650 liquid-oxygen and kerosene engines, broadly similar to the Russian RD-180 and assisted by four smaller strap-ons, would generate 5,200 tonnes of thrust, able to put 130 tonnes into low Earth orbit. The monster rocket would be 15.7 m in diameter, 98 m tall, dwarfing the CZ-5, and have a launch mass of 4,100 tonnes. For the upper stage, two liquid-hydrogen-fuelled YF-220 engines, broadly comparable to the European Vulcain engine, would generate 200 tonnes of thrust [11]. More details were expected as Chinese plans continued to evolve. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect was the early start that China had made on a rocket not expected to mature for many years.


The story of the early Chinese space program concludes with its founder, Tsien Hsue Shen, who must rate as China’s greatest scientist engineer of the twentieth century.

Once China’s first satellite reached orbit, Tsien appears to have retreated from an active leadership role. He became drawn into the political turbulence, either wittingly or not – we do not know. He should have stuck to rocket science, for he chose the losing side, Jiang Qing’s Gang of Four, later spending many years trying to get back on side with Deng Xiaoping, even writing slavishly pro­party pieces by way of recantation. He was eventually rewarded in 1991 when the government marked his 80th birthday by bestowing on him the award of “State Scientist of Outstanding Contribution”.

EPILOGUE: TSIEN HSUE SHENTsien Hsue Shen never attended international space conferences and made only one trip abroad, briefly to the Soviet Union (although there is Tsien Hsue Shen in the 1970s. an unconfirmed report he once made

a private family visit to the United States in 1972). Tsien was very hurt by his treatment in the United States in the 1950s and the failure of subsequent governments to apologize for their wrongdoing so he resolved not to have any further formal dealings with them. As a cultural statement, he wore the Zhongshan tunic, never ever again putting on a Western suit. A partisan congressional investigation into Chinese rocketry in the 1990s, the Cox report, reopened old wounds when it reconvicted him of the original spying charges, accusing him of making off with the Titan rocket design. This would have been remarkable, for it had not even been commissioned then and he had been obhged to leave all his notes behind in any case.

Tsien corresponded with some of his colleagues in CalTech until the cultural revolution but then the trail went cold. CalTech alone kept faith with him and acclaimed him a Distinguished Alumni in 1979 (he did not collect it, but sent a gracious acknowledgment). Two years later, one of his old friends from CalTech, Frank Marble, arranged to meet up when he was giving guest lectures at the Academy of Sciences Graduate School of Science & Technology in Beijing and offered to transfer his old papers. No, said Tsien, your American students need them more than my Chinese ones! But he changed his mind and the Tsien papers returned to China in 2001, some going to the Institute of Mechanics, others to a library set up by the government at Jiatong University, Xian. Extracts from the papers were published in a commemorative Manuscripts of HS Tsien 1938-55 in honor of his 90th birthday in 2001. His friend Frank Marble brought his CalTech award to his

home in a ceremony which received widespread coverage in the Chinese media. They reminisced about CalTech and the days of Theodore von Karman. His American – born son became a graduate of CalTech, his daughter a doctor with a successful practice.

As his long life neared its end, Tsien received occasional coverage in the Chinese press. When the first Shenzhou returned to the Earth in November 1999, President Jiang Zemin went to visit him to tell him about the successful mission. He gave a set of press interviews on his 90th birthday in 2001, when several journalists visited him and spotted a model of Shenzhou on his bookshelf. By the time Yang Liwei flew into space two years later, Tsien was bed-bound. The renowned American magazine, Aviation Week & Space Technology, awarded him the title of Person of the Year in 2007. Tsien died on 30th October 2009, aged 98, survived by his opera singer wife Jiang Ying and their two children. A commemorative symposium was held on 8th December 2011, to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth.

His biographer, Iris Chang, believes that Tsien gave the Chinese leadership, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, the confidence that, by investing in rocketry, the money would be well spent and there would be positive outcomes. Tsien brought discipline and coherence to the engineers and scientists who built China’s first rocket and satellite, establishing and leading the institutes that were essential for a national, coordinated space effort. He created the intellectual infrastructure for the development of Chinese science, insisting that his scientists and engineers build up a proper system of reference books and materials, not just in Chinese, but in Russian and English, too. She believes that, had he stayed in the United States, he would never have achieved his subsequent prominence: his real achievement was to build up a space program in such a challenging environment as the China of the 1950s and 1960s. One of the last things he did was to give permission to his secretary to write his biography, but only once he was gone. Then we should know more.


[1] Bonnet-Bidaud, J.-M. Old Chinese Star Charts. Presentation in Alliance Fran£aise, Dublin, 6 September 2011; Needham, J. Science and Civilization in China, 27 vols. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1954).

[2] Chien, Lai-Chen et al. Rocket Weapons in Ancient China. International Academy of Astronautics, 34th History Symposium, Rio de Janiero, 2001; Aerodynamic Aspects of an Ancient Chinese Multi-Stage Rocket – the Fire Dragon. International Academy of Astronautics, 35th History Symposium, Toulouse, 2001.

[3] Handberg, R.; Li, Zhen. Chinese Space Policy: A Study in Domestic and International Politics. Routledge, Abingdon (2007).

[4] Hu, Wen-Rui. Space Science in China: Progress and Prospects. In: Hu, W.-R. (ed.), Space Science in China. Gordon & Breach, Amsteldijk (1997).

[5] Grahn, S. The Satellites Launched by FB-1. Available online at www. sven- grahn. pp. se, 31 January 2000.


A key feature affecting the quality and outcome of any space program is its international links and they should be considered an important adjunct to the domestic infrastructure. From 1956 to 1977, with the exception of the brief period of the Sino-Soviet accord (1956-60), China developed its space program relying almost entirely on its indigenous resources. During the period of rectification and reconstruction, Deng Xiaoping led a policy of openness and cooperation. A series of exchange visits and meetings kick-started the process in 1977-79, with Japan and the United States, and collectively and individually with the members of the European Space Agency. China’s first international agreement was with France. The protocol agreed between the two countries covered cooperation in the areas of communications satellites and the surveying of natural resources, launchers, and balloons. The Chinese were invited to watch the launch of an Ariane rocket. An agreement with Italy shortly afterwards involved the use by the Chinese of an Italian communications satellite called Sirio, which was moved from its normal position in geosynchronous orbit (15°W) to 65°E to test out ground stations in anticipation of China’s first comsat. A memorandum was then signed with the European Space Agency as a whole in 1986, supplemented by bilateral agreements with many of its individual members.

In the course of time, links were built up with over 40 countries, taking in a broader range of countries such as India, Japan, South Korea, Canada, and Ukraine. The standard procedure was for the first contacts to lead to bilateral visits, the exchange of minutes of meetings, followed by a protocol for cooperation initialed by the two governments. The most intense cooperation has been with Russia, which, in the 1990s, established a bilateral commission meeting alternately in Moscow and Beijing, with 21 cooperation areas and eight priority themes, extended to cover manned spaceflight. A second agreement was signed in November 2005 to run from 2007 to 2016 and was extended to cover interplanetary missions. Joint projects have been undertaken with Europe (Dragon (see Chapter 6) and Doublestar (see Chapter 7)) and Brazil (CBERS (see Chapter 6)). Of concern to some Western countries, though, has been Chinese missile, rather than space, cooperation with North Korea and Iran, where there are reports of a murky circle of supplies of parts and equipment [7].

Deng Xiaoping (gesticulating, on left), with rocket engines as a backdrop, led the

process of modernization, openness, and cooperation.

Cooperation with the United States has had – and continues to have – many ups and downs (Chapter 5), but scientific cooperation has been more stable. The Chinese signed an exchange agreement with the United States in 1978 and an Understanding on Cooperation in Space Technology in 1979. A Joint Commission on Scientific and Technological Cooperation was meeting by 1980 and working groups were set up. Later, two small Chinese student chemical and materials experiments flew on board the Space Shuttle (mission STS-42) in January 1992. A Chinese alpha magnetic spectrometer flew on the Space Shuttle Discovery mission to the Mir space station in June 1998. Two Chinese universities – Southeastern in Nanjing and Jiaotong in Shanghai – later participated through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, flown up to the International Space Station in 2011.

Following the opening developed by Deng Xiaoping, China joined the principal range of international space-related organizations: the International Astronautical Federation, the International Telecommunications Union, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), International Maritime Satellite Association, INMARSAT, COSPAR, the International Telecommunica­tions Union (which allocates frequencies for comsats), and the International Organization for Standardization. China signed the main international outer space treaties of the United Nations – those for the exploration and use of outer space, the return of stranded astronauts, responsibihty for damage caused by space objects, and the registration of objects launched into space. China joined the COSPAS/SARSAT international satellite-based sea and land distress and rescue system: this uses American and Russian satellites to relay distress calls from ships foundering at sea (most famously to rescue stranded yachtsmen).

Perhaps the moment which marked the end of China’s coming of age in the international space community was the 47th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), held in Beijing in October 1996. Attended by 2,000 domestic and over 1,000 foreign delegates, the congress was opened by Chinese President Jiang Zemin and hosted by Prime Minister Li Peng. The Chinese put their space industry on show, brought Westerners around Chinese space facilities, unveiled plans for their own space future, and appealed for greater international cooperation between China and its international partners (the International Astronautical Federation announced a return to Beijing in 2013). In September 2001, China welcomed 300 delegates from 20 countries to the 6th Asia-Pacific Conference on Space Cooperation and its secretariat was established in China.


The Chinese did not give up easily and tried a number of strategies to circumvent the American ITAR blockade. They had some Western allies in the form of European communications satellite companies. Normally, they used some American compo­nents, but it dawned on both them and China that, if they built their satelhtes without any American components, they could legally evade the American restrictions and still launch on Chinese rockets, such satellites being “ITAR-free”. Several European companies worked with China. These ranged from large comsat – makers like Alcatel, later called Thales Alenia, which made entire satellites, to small companies like Belgium’s Spacebel in Angleur, which provided software to test computer circuits, while ETCA in Charleroi provided power condition units. Circumventing ITAR with European companies was the next challenge and, later, China would move to developing countries in the search of fresh customers.

China first got around the ITAR restrictions when it launched Apstar 6 on 12th April 2005 on a CZ-3B from Xi Chang. Its significance, though, was that the comsat was a Spacebus 4000 built by Thales Alenia. It was guaranteed “ITAR-free”, without a single American component – a significant break through the ITAR wall, although this had been achieved at additional manufacturing costs. With 38 C-band and 12 Ku-band transponders, it was initially located at 142°E and moved to its assigned position at 134°E a month later. Apstar 6 marked the return of China to the world launcher market after seven years.

This was followed by more ITAR-free launches, Chinasat 9 and 6B, both built in Europe. Zhongxing 6B2 was launched on the CZ-3B on 5th July 2007 into an initial geosynchronous orbit of 233-49,721 km at 24.2° before reaching 24-hr orbit, where its 38 transponders beamed signals to China and the Pacific. Zhongxing 9 (Chinasat 9) was launched on CZ-3B on 9th June 2008, starting with a bum into an even higher super-synchronous orbit (245-49,592 km). This was a 4.5-tonne Thales Alenia Spacebus 4000 with 22 channels and 11-kW power. It was initially sent to 92.2°E to broadcast the Olympic Games, before turning its signals to the rural areas, where it was designed to reach 270m people using dishes as small as 45 cm.

This was followed by another Thales Aliena satellite, Apstar 7, for APT of Hong Kong in March 2012. It started with a record-high super-synchronous orbit out to 50,101 km before going on to provide high-power TV and com­munications services across Asia, Eur­ope, Australia, the Middle East, and Africa, replacing Apstar 2R, scheduled to operate until 2028.

China in 2007 signed an agreement with Indonesia to launch a new Palapa satellite, Indosat, in 2011, another Spacebus 4000. This was duly launched by a CZ-3B on 31st August 2009, but a failure of one of the engines on the third stage stranded it in an orbit of 221-21,135 km. The satellite was able to use its station­keeping motor with four burns to reach geosynchronous orbit on 16th September, much to China’s re­lief, although the fuel cost would reduce the satellite’s lifetime from 15 to 10 years.

The Americans reacted badly to Europe’s successful and entirely legal evasion of ITAR. In 2008, Republican congressmen introduced budget amendments to punish any European or other countries having any dealing with China, ITAR-free or not, such as keeping them out of the American aerospace market. This did not deter the large, long-standing international satellite communications supplier Eu – telsat, which, in spring 2009, an­nounced that it would commission Thales Alenia to build for its next satellite, Eutelsat 3C, ITAR-free, and have it launched on the Long March. The Chinese offered Eutelsat a price in the order of €35m to €50m, way below that of the Russian Proton. In the congress, Republican congressmen like Dana Rohrabacher (California) threatened sanctions against Eutelsat. He attacked the notion of the Chinese launching any commercial
satellites, saying that the technology would end up with rogue nations and countries developing weapons for mass destruction. China eventually launched Eutelsat W3C on 7th October 2011, but minimized the launch publicity so as not to irritate the Americans needlessly.


Shi Jian 1, in March 1971, was China’s first scientific satellite and highly successful (Chapter 1). It was eight years before China was again ready to launch scientific satellites. This time, the Chinese attempted to launch three satellites in one go. This was by no means unusual, for the Russians had pioneered three-in-one launches in 1964 and had even launched eight-in-one missions (coincidentally, the first taking place the day after Dong Fang Hong was put into orbit in 1970). This is not to minimize the achievement, for the deployment of three scientific packages in this manner can often be accident-prone (as more advanced space nations have sometimes been reminded, to their cost). The original Shi Jian 2 project dated to 1972, when it was defined as a single space physics satellite to cover eight fields of work. In the course of refinement, three more areas were added, with design concluded by the end of 1974. An extensive instrumentation package was prepared (Table 7.1).

Table 7.1. Shi Jian 2 instruments.


Semi-conductor electron unidirectional intensity detector Semi-conductor proton unidirectional intensity detector Semi-conductor electronic directional probe Scintillation counter

Four-channel long-wave infrared radiometer Two-channel short-wave infrared radiometer Earth atmosphere ultraviolet background radiometer Solar ultraviolet radiometer Solar soft x-ray proportional counter Thermoelectric ionization barometer

The orbit was planned for 250-3,000 km, inclination 70°, with an operational lifetime of six months. Shi Jian 2 was a 257-kg, eight-sided, 1.23-m-diameter prism, 1.1m high, with four small solar panels. The Shi Jian 2 had a single ultra-short-wave transmission system at 40.5 MHz and 162 MHz, and would send back telemetry both in real time and by tape recorder able to hold 520,000 bits of data at a time. It was the first Chinese satellite to store information for later retransmission, being dumped to ground stations during overpasses of China, and was the first Chinese satellite to use solar panels (as distinct from solar cells attached to the main body of the spacecraft, like Shi Jian 1). Each panel was 1.14 m long and 0.56 m wide, making a total span of 2.55 m2. The four solar panels contained 5,188 small solar cells, generating 140 W, which charged nickel cadmium batteries. It was the first Chinese satellite to have a full solar orientation system to point it towards the Sun and thereby obtain maximum solar power to support the electric demands of the scientific instruments. A hydrazine-fueled thruster system would keep the satellite’s panels pointed towards the Sun, rotating the spacecraft at 15-20 revolutions per minute. Shi Jian 2 made extensive use of the louver system of thermal control so successful on Shi Jian 1. The satellite represented a substantial advance in satelhte design.

Although originally intended for launch on the Long March, it was calculated that, if the Feng Bao launcher were used, it would be possible to lift two other satellites at the same time, although this also meant an alteration to the orbit, to 59.5°, 240-2,000 km. The first Chinese three-in-one launch came to grief and failed to reach orbit on 28th July 1979 when the Feng Bao’s second-stage vernier engine, designed for the final low-powered thrust to orbit, failed. There was a spare Shi Jian 2, but the other two satellites had to be built from scratch.

A fresh attempt was organized and Shi Jian 2, 2A, and 2B were put into orbit in darkness on 19th September 1981. No fewer than 59 separate operations had to be carried out perfectly in sequence for the separation procedure to work – and it did. The scientific satellites entered similar orbits: 232-1,615 km, 59.5°, 103 min. The other two satellites were entirely different: Shi Jian 2A, the main one, was heavier, bell-shaped, with two cones and antenna, while Shi Jian 2B was a combined metal

Shia Jian 2 series in assembly.

Shi Jian 2 satellite.

ball and balloon, linked by a thin wire and designed to measure decay rates due to atmospheric drag. The three satellites operated for 332, 382, and six days, respectively. Shi Jian 2 provided details of the configuration, distribution, and boundaries of the Earth’s radiation belts. By flying during the period of an 11-year peak of solar activity, it was able to measure radiation from our Sun at its most violent and enable predictions of solar storms to be made.