Category China in Space


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





Estimating worldwide space budgets has always been problematical, for figures are complicated by currency rates, variable labor costs, commercial revenues, and just how inclusive they are of infrastructure, development costs, and military programs. China’s space budget is also complicated, as are others in command or former command economies, by the notional nature of some financial transfers, cross­industry subsidies, and the provision of important functions by the military (e. g. search and recovery operations). A particular consideration is that labor costs in China are low. As a result, formal financial estimates of the Chinese space budget have tended to be on the low side by international comparison.

The Chinese have rarely published global figures on space spending, but they have for individual projects. For example, the cost of project 921 was given as ¥18bn (about €1.5bn), of which ¥8bn comprised new facilities and ¥10bn the development of Shenzhou. Later, they quoted costs for an unmanned Shenzhou launch of ¥800m and manned of ¥lbn (€80m and €100m, respectively). The cost of Chang e up to 2012 was given as ¥2.3bn (€230m). The first time China volunteered the cost of its annual space budget was when a NASA administrator visited China in 2006 and he was given a figure of €1.4bn. This figure is on the low side and it is possible that it does not include either development costs or military missions. Western assessments early this century were in the range of €lbn-2bn a year, specifically €1.5bn (Futron), €1.59bn (America’s Aviation Week & Space Technology), €1.68bn (Britain’s Flight International) to between €1.5bn and €2bn (civil) or a total of €2.5bn including defense (Pirard). The most authoritative


United States

















Source: ESD. European Space Directory, 2012. ESD, Paris (2012).

* NASA, €14,615m; Department of Defense, €21,538m; others, €13,846m. ** ESA and national programs.

comparisons are those made by Belgian writer Theo Pirard in the European Space Directory; these are detailed in Table 10.2.

Whilst these figures are helpful, the relative positions may be more meaningful. These figures show the United States as not only the largest space spender, but the largest by far. Europe comes in second, far behind, with Japan following even further in turn. The table places China as the fifth space spender in the world, behind Japan and Russia but well ahead of India. These figures, though, are only the direct spending figures by the state and do not include revenue. Two other analyses are available. First, Futron has assessed the economic value of the Chinese space program at€12bn annually – a figure which takes account of both those working in industry and its benefits to the economy. Second, in 2011, a domestic analysis was made, using a quite different assessment system, estimating the investment of the space program to be between ¥10bn and ¥20bn (€lbn to €2bn, in line with our earlier figures), giving a boost to the economy of between 0.034% and 0.103%, respectively, annually – quite small in the context of an economy of €4,300bn [1]. Overall, there is much more work to be done in assessing the level of space spending in an internationally comparable, transparent manner. China’s space budget may be relatively low, but it is stable, which permits long-term planning, and has many built – in economies to keep costs down. It is economical, for, as the Shenzhou and Chang e programs exemplified, missions are spaced well apart, each manned mission marking a step forward. Existing spacecraft are adapted for a broad range of new purposes, like the DFH-3 comsat for Moon probes. “Bus” designs are used for many different types of missions. Rockets follow a common design, the Long March 3 and 4 being based on the Long March 2. The introduction of small satellites and micro-satellites means lower launch costs. All these features keep costs down.

There are no absolutely clear figures available for the numbers of people working in the Chinese space program. The best Western estimates give a figure of 200,000 people directly involved in the space industry, but this does not include sub­contracting companies, which could possibly double this number. Of these, 100,000 are technical workers, drawn from light industry, the army’s technical ranks, and the polytechnics. About 10,000 are graduate research engineers working in 460 institutes leading or connected to the space program. The Chinese space program has been able to choose the top graduates coming out of engineering schools and has been able to attract the country’s most talented scientists.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the workforce is not its number, but its age. When 38-year-old Yang Liwei circled the Earth in 2003, many of the people who designed his spaceship and controlled his mission were younger than him. Eighty percent of the engineers were under 40 and some were even under 30. Shenzhou program designer Wang Yongzhi once pointed to the emergence of a large group of young specialists as the key to a successful long-term program. The youth of the program is even more evident if we look at the mission control center for the manned space program. Almost all those recruited there were under 30 on their arrival and their average age is 27. Although their pay was low, about €2,000 a year – a fraction of what they could have received in the private sector – working there was coveted and prestigious, with onward career opportunities in science, technology, and the military. Controllers were encouraged to take master’s courses in Tsinghua University and Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics and to study abroad in Britain, France, and the United States. In 20-30 years’ time, they will be at the peak of their careers, with a long experience behind them. Chinese delegates to international space events stand out for their youth.


Many people provided generously of their time and energies so that this book and its predecessors could be written. I especially acknowledge the late Rex Hall, who shared his knowledge, files, and information over many years, and Lynn Hall, who continued to make them available to me. Many others kindly provided reports, information and advice, and permission to use photographs and diagrams. I especially thank:

Zhu Yi, Xu Fongjian, China National Committee for COSPAR, Beijing Guo Jiong, Gu Yidong, China Manned Spaceflight Engineering Wu Yunzhao, School of Geographic & Oceanographic Science, Nanjing University

Ling Zongcheng, National Astronomical Observatories, China Academy of Sciences

Chen Shengbo, Jilin University, Changchun Yu Yang, Tsinghua University Wang Lina, Beijing University

Lu Yangxiaoyi, Sternberg Astronomical Institute, Moscow

Cindy Liu, Dublin Institute of Technology

Aaron Janofsky, COSPAR, Paris

Gabriela Nasciemento, INPE, Brazil

Patricia Leite, Assistant to the Director, INPE, Brazil

Suszann Parry, Mary Todd, Ben Jones, British Interplanetary Society, London

Paolo UUvi, Italy

Theo Pirard, Belgium

Dave Shayler, England

Phil Clark, Hastings, England

Pat Norris, England

Karl Bergquist, European Space Agency

Susan McKenna-Lawlor, Space Technologies Ireland

Dominic Phelan, Ireland

I am grateful to them all. For assistance with photographs, I thank those above and also Mark Wade, Hang Heng Rong, Zhang Nan, Thierry Legault, and Clare Hindson of Press Association. Other photos come from the author’s collection and from the previous editions, to whom I renew my appreciation.

Brian Harvey Dublin, Ireland, 2012

About the Author

Brian Harvey is a writer and broadcaster on spaceflight who Uves in Dublin, Ireland. He has a degree in history and political science from Dublin University (Trinity College) and an MA from University College Dublin. His first book was Race into Space: The Soviet Space Programme (Ellis Horwood, 1988), followed by further books on the Russian, Chinese, European, Indian, and Japanese space programs. His books and book chapters have been translated into Russian, Chinese, and Korean.


This was the last mission for some time. Rumors circulated in the late 1990s of a new version to come, the FSW 3 series, but this was complicated when China then announced its intention of flying a dedicated orbital mission to test improved varieties of grass, shrubs, and trees, which observers called the “seeds mission” for short. Wang Yusheng of CAST explained how the exposure of grasses to radiation could be used to develop different types of grasses – those that could spread quickly, or grow more slowly, or be capable of resisting harsh climatic conditions. Then, China announced plans to fly a silkworm experiment, contrived by Jingshan High School, Beijing, to follow the entire lifetime cycle of the silkworm from egg to adult in the course of a mission. The original aim was to compare the results with a similar experiment carried out on the last, lost flight of the American Columbia Space Shuttle. Silkworm experiments had been carried on 10 previous FSWs and Bions. Scientists found that, although weightlessness reduced the hatching rate, silkworms otherwise grew normally, produced better silk, and had better digestive ability than ground silkworms.

Already, some seeds experiments had been funded under what was called “project 863”, a project that was to subsequently reappear in other parts of the space program. Project 863, really a program rather than a project, was authorized in March 1986, hence the “3” and “86” designators. It was a horizontal program for scientific modernization in China, in turn a response to the Star Wars program announced by President Reagan in March 1983. Star Wars provoked a strong response in the Chinese engineering and scientific community, but the lesson the Chinese took from it was not that they should re-arm, but that they had fallen far behind the West in technology – a gap that must be closed once more. In 1986, space scientist Yang Yiachi and three colleagues wrote a letter to Deng Xiaoping later published in the Journal of the Chinese Academy of Science proposing a systematic approach to technological modernization. He accordingly directed the state council to respond. Gathering together 200 experts for four months, they produced An Outline for a National High Technology Planning, proposing a budget of ¥10m. The government agreed what was called the National High Technology Development Program, or project 863 for short, but not the budget, which it increased by three magnitudes to YlObn. It was a horizontal program with seven categories (biotechnology and life sciences, information, aerospace, laser technology, automa­tion, energy, and new materials), 15 themes, and 230 sub-categories (the European Union uses a similar model, called the Framework Program (FP) for research). Between 1986 and 2001, €780m was invested in the program in 5,200 individual projects. The idea was to fund small cutting-edge projects (e. g. digital mapping, internet libraries in Chinese) that could be applied across wide areas of the economy – indeed, it led to 2,000 new patents in the first 15 years. The program contributed to Chinese advances in a number of areas, such as computers, where China developed the fastest computer in the word, the Tianhe 1, able to carry out 2,507 trillion operations a second (2.507 petaFLOPS). Project 863 funded a series of studies, exploratory projects, and missions in the space program, seeds being one of the first. Responsible for space research in project 863 was Min Guirong (1933- ), an engineer involved in the design of both the first satellites and the subsequent FSW series.

After a seven-year gap, the FSW series resumed in November 2003 as FSW 3-1 (the title Jian Bing 4 was also given for the FSW 3 series). Its weight was 3,800 kg and it was launched by the Long March 2D from the pad adjacent to the one where, two weeks earlier, Yang Liwei had made history as China’s first astronaut. The cabin returned to the Earth with its payload on 21st November after 18 days of circling the

Earth. In charge of the FSW program at this stage was Tang Bochang. The next mission, FSW 3-2, flew for 27 days starting on 29th August 2004, the mission being for surveying and mapping, confirmed by its lower perigee of 165 km. This was actually an older version of the cabin and used the CZ-2C, not the more recent D, so it could also be categorized as the FSW 1-6. The equipment module, 2,500 kg, remained in orbit but, by early October, it was tumbling and fell out of orbit on 6th November.

Soon after its return, China launched FSW 3-3 on 27th September 2004 on the CZ-2D from Jiuquan for geological surveying and area mapping. It maneuvered to an unparalleled height in the series: 560 km. FSW 3-3 carried 57-kg experiments for boiling heat transfer, air bubbles, melt mass, and cell cultivation. The mission lasted 17 days, the cabin crashing into a villager’s home beside the market in Tianbeizi, Sichuan. The roof was wrecked and supporting pillars were brought to the ground, but the cabin itself was undamaged. At this stage, the Chinese used two additional designators for the FSW series, both Jian Bing 4 and its number in the overall program (the 20th recoverable satellite, FSW 20). The next mission followed on 2nd August 2005 on the CZ-2C from Jiuquan. Named FSW 3-4 or FSW 21, it returned after 27 days on 28th August, while the equipment module orbited until 16th October. It was most likely a close-look photographic mission [10].

Only nine hours after it came to rest, FSW 3-5 (also FSW 22) was launched on Long March 2D from Jiuquan into orbit of 203-298 km, 63°, 89.5 min. This meant that Xian control was preparing the new mission at the very time it was recovering its predecessor – an impressive demonstration of control abilities. Western observers

Wire experiment, FSW 2-3. Courtesy: COSPAR China.

interpreted the back-to-back mission as part of a military reconnaissance program to obtain six weeks of continuous coverage of high-value targets under favorable lighting conditions [11]. This at last carried the long-announced “silkworm mission” of Beijing Junghan Middle School to follow the spinning and cocooning of the silkworm in orbit. The students found that orbiting silkworms had a shorter lifespan (eight days) than on the Earth (10 days), in line with earlier results. FSW 3-5 carried a fluid physics experiments to study the migration of injected single and double air bubbles in silicon oil. Platinum wires were used to boil liquids to test the efficiency of heat transfer. Although heating was not affected by microgravity, the pattern of bubbles was dramatically different, producing many continually forming tiny

aluminum plate aluminum pi ale

pcllier element

radiators r~i step motor I

step motor 2

FSW experiment container. Courtesy: COSPAR China.

bubbles, the large ones staying on the surface. Three distinct types of bubbles were observed, some very small but coalescing into larger ones, enabhng a model of bubble development to be formulated differently from that on the Earth. Air bubbles injected into silicone oil tested the Marangoni theory that they would move into warmer water (they did). Liquids boiled more gently than on the ground and it was more difficult to know precisely when boiling takes place. In another biology experiment, bacterial cells were fed with glucose and hormones to test their consumption rates compared to ground samples [12]. The equipment module orbited until 16th October.


The idea of a dedicated astronomical observatory has long been close to the heart of Chinese astronomers and astrophysics, with the United States and Soviet Union first launching such observatories in the 1960s. China has sketched four such missions – Tianwen Weixing, Solar Space Telescope (SST), Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT), Kuafu – and made plans for participation in the World Space Observatory.

The first was brought to the design stage in the 1970s and even acquired a name, the Tianwen Weixing, though this project was not identified until many years later by Italian space writer Paolo Ulivi. Work on the 500-kg spacecraft began in 1976 and it was slated to carry astronomical instruments developed by the Purple Mountain Observatory. The purpose of the mission was to observe cosmic rays, x-rays, gamma – ray bursts, and high-energy solar emissions. It would make an all-sky survey through a window of 80 cm2. Instruments were a soft-x-ray imaging telescope, solar H-lyman ionization chamber, solar soft x-ray proportional counter (2-20 KeV), solar ultraviolet detector, solar radiation receiver, 10-cm2 cosmic x-ray source detector, cosmic gamma-ray burst detector, and cosmic gamma-ray burst x-ray detector. The soft x-ray imaging telescope proved exceptionally difficult, delaying the project. Even though the spacecraft was completed and integrated, the mission was canceled in 1985. Its instruments were transferred to other missions: the solar soft x-ray detectors (1-8 A), high-energy proton detector (10-30 MeV), and high-energy electron detector ((0.5-1 MeV) to the first communications satelhtes; the solar and cosmic ion detector to the Feng Yun in 1990; some instruments to Shenzhou 2 (Chapter 8); and others to balloons which made long-distance flights to Japan and over Siberia [11].

China returned to the idea of an astronomical observatory five years later. The Academy of Sciences approved in 1992 a 2-tonne solar observatory called the SST in cooperation with Germany (the proportions being 80:20) but this also made slow progress. By 1997, it had been through a full design study, with five volumes of papers completed. First government funding came in 1999 for the manufacturing of the telescope and attitude control systems, for test facilities in the observatory of Beijing, and for the mirror to be made in Russia. In its final design, the telescope itself would weigh 2 tonnes, carry five instruments, and operate for up to five years at 800-km altitude, carrying a polarizing spectrograph, accompanied by four side – mounted telescopes to examine the Sun in wide-band, X-ray, and hydrogen rays, as follows:

• 1-m main optical telescope, 3,900-6,600 A;

• 12-cm extreme ultraviolet imaging telescope in four spectrum lines;

• 12-cm white-light telescope, 6,562 A;

• wide-band spectrometer with soft and hard x-ray spectrometers and gamma – ray spectrometer to observe solar flares; and

• solar and interplanetary radio spectrometer, 2-50 MHz.

The SST would focus on the solar magnetic field and the detailed structures of the active areas. The intention was that it would be launched from Taiyuan on a Long March 4B for a three-year mission in a circular orbit at 730 km, 99.3 min, 98.3°. The truss for the telescope was 340 kg in weight and the structure holding the telescope 4 m long. The telescope’s observations would be transmitted down to the ground station in Miyun and then relayed 60 km to Beijing by fiber-optic cable. The telescope would collect 1,728 MB a day, which, after compression, will be downloaded in a daily 8-GB x-band transmission. It would have a two-dimensional real-time spectrograph to measure vector magnetic fields on the solar surface with a resolution of 0.1 arc-seconds so as “to achieve a breakthrough in solar physics” [12]. The latest launch date given is 2015.

A second project with long historical roots was the HXMT. This progressed through a number of design stages, too. The idea of an x-ray telescope was first defined in 1994 when two scientists in the High Energy Astrophysics Laboratory and Beijing Observatory, both called Li, proposed the use of 18 hexagonal prisms to

Original solar telescope design, 1990s. Courtesy: COSPAR China.

Revised solar telescope design, 2000s. Courtesy: COSPAR China.

make an x-ray sky survey in the 10-200-KeV range, below the range sampled by the European-Russian INTEGRAL project. Detailed design work was undertaken in the mid-1990s. The principal instrument was to be an 18-sided hexagonal prism for both survey purposes and more detailed imaging of high-interest objects [13].

This was refined in the 11th five-year plan (2008-13), whereby HXMT would operate in a wider energy band of 1-250 keV, with a resolution of 1 arc minute. Its objectives were to go beyond the hard x-ray sky survey, to find out how many supermassive black holes were surrounded by dust, make observations of x-ray emissions from pulsars, and examine the gravitational fields of compact objects and black holes. In 2009, a model was exhibited at the Zhuhai air show and the project was given a 2012 launch date with a budget of ¥lbn (€110m). It was announced that it would carry four telescopes, weigh 1 tonne, and orbit at 500 km for four years.

Funding for HXMT was not finally forthcoming until March 2011, with a new launch date set for 2015. Now it would carry both a low-energy instrument (1­15 keV) and a medium-energy one (5-30 keV). The 2,700-kg satellite will be put into an orbit of 550 km, 43°, for a four-year mission with the following final configuration of instruments:

• high-energy x-ray instrument, 20-250 keV;

• medium-energy x-ray experiment, 5-30 keV; and

• low-energy x-ray experiment, 1-15 keV.

As before, HXMT will perform sky surveys of the galactic plane, but its objectives were made more precise: to monitor variables and detect fresh sources; make large observations of the cosmic x-ray background; obtain the x-ray spectra of active galactic nuclei in order to determine their components and geometry; and observe the timing, physics, and extreme physical conditions near x-ray binaries.

The fourth was Kuafu, named after a figure in Chinese mythology who traveled to the Sun and followed a similarly named earlier mission with Shi Jian 4. This also dated to the 1980s and made no progress until Professor Tu Chuanyi formally proposed on 24th January 2003 that it be merged with a conceptual study for a Solar Wind and Auroral Storm Explorer (SWASE). International partners were invited to a presentation in Frankfurt, Germany, in December 2004 and it quickly attracted support in Germany, France, Britain, Belgium, Canada, Austria, and Ireland, with others joining later (Finland, Italy, Norway, and Switzerland). One hundred and five participants attended a Kuafu symposium in palm-tree-Uned Sanya, China, in 2007. Later, it became part of the International Living with a Star (ILWS) program and also found its way into the national 11th five-year plan (2008-13).

Kuafu is a development of Tan Ce, but this time with three spacecraft on a 10- year mission. The aim of the mission is to follow the complete chain of disturbance from the solar atmosphere to geospace, with a particular interest in solar flares, Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), interplanetary clouds, shock waves, magnetic storms, sub-storms, and auroras. According to Rainer Schwenn of the Max Plank Institute, “despite the enormous progress in recent years, there is still a lack in understanding of several key links in the long chain of actions and reactions that connect our Earth to its parent star, especially the origin of disturbances at the Sun, like flares and CMEs and our inability to predict them; their effects on the Earth;

Kuafu, showing locations of the three probes. Courtesy: NASA.

Table 7.6. Kuafu instruments.

Kuafu A

Extreme ultraviolent disk imager Coronal dynamics imager Radio burst instrument Solar wind instrument package Solar energetic particle sensor X-ray detector

Kuafu В

Extreme ultraviolet aurora monitoring camera

Aurora spectrograph

Wide-field aurora imager

Fluxgate magnetometer

High-energy particle experiment

Neutral atom imager (Ireland)

their ability to enter the Earth’s system and the magnitude of their terrestrial effects”. It is anticipated that each spacecraft will be 700 kg and fly 670,000 km from the Earth at three distinct points, the launcher being a CZ-3B (single launch) or CZ-2 (double launch). A will be located at Lagrange point LI, 1.5m km inward from the Sun, while B1 and B2 are put into terrestrial polar orbit, north and south, respectively, thereby giving simultaneous observations of solar storms and auroras at the peak of the next solar maximum.

Kuafu A will carry instruments for measuring solar extreme ultraviolet, white – light CMEs, the local plasma and magnetic field, solar wind as well as radio waves, while B1 and B2 would study high-energy particles and the magnetic field, and make 24-hr continuous imaging of the auroral regions. Instruments cover the 20- 300-MeV range, while the magnetic field measurer has a resolution of 0.01 nT. The payload for Kuafu A is 89 kg with a data transmission rate of 160 kbps, while for В the payload is 60 kg and the data rate is 500 kbps [14]. Table 7.6 describes the payloads.

An abortive project was SMESE (Small Explorer for Solar Eruptions), aimed to study solar flares and CMEs and the connections between the two at solar maximum. Even though a mission design had been completed, France pulled out of the project in April 2009. Instrumentation had even been agreed (Lyman disk imager, EUV disk imager, infrared telescope, Lyman alpha coronagraph, x-ray spectrometer, and gamma-ray spectrometer).

Finally, China indicated its willingness to participate in the World Space Observatory Ultraviolet (WSO-UV), a joint Russian-European-Chinese project with a 1.7-m primary mirror to study the structure of the universe and the atmospheres of distant planets, with China offering to contribute a long slit spectrograph. Participation will require advances in instrumentation, especially in focusing telescopes, focus plane detectors, sub-millimeter wave detectors, infrared detectors, and cooling systems. This project is still at an early stage of definition.


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.


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.


The mission profile for Shenzhou 7-а space walk – was announced as far back as 2005 and Chinese men were already practicing in the hydrotank in Moscow’s Star Town that February. Two years later, it was announced that work had begun on their spacesuit. By then, the astronaut training center had its own hydrotank in the training center, 10 m deep and 23 m across, with a crane to lower astronauts into the water and a team of six to eight divers to accompany the simulation. Zhang Baiman was announced as being in charge of the mission. On 10th July 2007, an Iliyushin 76 delivered the spacecraft to Jiuquan, the arrival being greeted by school children with flowers.

The first space walker, Zhai Zhigang, was named in the press in August and followed in the tradition of the first space walkers, Alexei Leonov (March 1965) and Ed White (June 1965). Zhai Zhigang came from Longjiang, Qiqihaer, Heilongjiang. His domestic circumstances were difficult, for his father was invahded and his mother ilhterate, although determined to get her children an education. Like Nie Haisheng, the Air Force was his route to a career. His colleagues reckon that he won selection because of his sanguine behavior – “he always wore a smile, whatever happened”, they said. His hobbies were fixing gadgets, calligraphy, and dancing. His companions were Liu Buoming and Jing Haipeng, both Air Force pilots. All were born in 1966, the year of the horse, considered a good omen in China. One difference from the 1965 missions was that the commander would make the space walk (back then, the commander was the man who stayed inside). Liu Buoming would join the space walk but remain mainly inside the cabin, while Jing Haipeng stayed in the fully pressurized command module.

For the mission, China had bought nine Orion suits from Russia in April 2004 – three flight suits, two low-pressure training suits, and four suitable for hydrotank tests. From them, China had built its own suit, called the Feitian. For purposes of comparison, the space walker would wear the Chinese Feitian, but a second yuhangyuan would wear an Orlan suit in the depressurized orbital cabin. For their own suit, they tested both Russian-style oxygen-nitrogen (air) Orlan suits and Ughter

Zhai Zhigang’s Feitian. China tested two suits, the other being the Russian Orion. Courtesy: Mark Wade.

American-style oxygen-only suits at 0.3 atmospheres but which require pre­breathing for about a half-hour, as well as preventative measures against fire and the bends, deciding on the American system. The suit weighed 110 kg, had an endurance of 7 hr, and carried 1.9 L of water [12]. A number of other important changes were made. First, the exterior of the orbital module was stripped down so as to make a clear path for the space walkers. The solar panels were removed, as were 16 thrusters. In their place, the designers installed handrails, five air bottles, two cameras, a 40-kg subsatellite, and an experimental package. The primary purpose of the mission was to make a space walk and, once that was accomplished, Shenzhou would return to the Earth, mission duration being set at 68 hr.

For tracking, five comships were deployed: Yuan Wang 1 and 2 in the eastern Pacific, Yuan Wang 3 in the Atlantic, and Yuan Wang 5 and 6 in the north Pacific, supplemented by 12 tracking stations (including the overseas ones in Malindi, Swakopmund, Karachi, and Santiago), as well as the Tian Lian data relay satellite over the Indian Ocean. This time, tourists were invited to watch the launch, the fee being ¥15,000 (€1,500).

The CZ-2F was brought out to the pad on 23rd September 2008 and fuelled up. The three yuhangyuan held a press conference the following day, the 24th, and met the president. On the afternoon of 25th September, they suited up and traveled to the launch pad in the transfer van, to be greeted by a noisy crowd of workers, children, and well-wishers. The three men made their way to the launch station, where they stopped, saluted the launch commander, announced their readiness to carry out their mission, and, to further jostling and cheering, mounted the lift. They shd in turn into the command cabin through chutes in the orbital module.

It was night by the time the count concluded at 21:10 China time. The engines of the CZ-2F gushed yellow and orange flame with black smoke and began to rise in the night sky. It could be seen ascending into a typical ice-clear Jiuquan night, bending over in its climb, making the distinctive “cross of Korolev” shape of clustered burning engines. In a few minutes, they were in orbit of 200-337 km, 42.4°, raised on the fifth orbit to 330-337 km. Over Honolulu, amateur American trackers picked up signals on 2,224 MHz. Shenzhou 7 benefitted from the Space Environment Prediction Centre, set up in 1998, which updated its forecast radiation levels every 8 hr and confirmed that it was safe to go ahead with the space walk. Chinese doctors had meantime developed a medicine to combat space sickness – a combination of difenidol, theotydramin, promethazine, and cofferine, taken both before launch and before the space walk. Combining American and Russian experience with traditional Chinese medicines, a new pill was introduced to combat fatigue and improve performance during spaceflight, called the taikong yangxin.

The long-awaited space walk took place on 27th September, the third day of flight, on the 29th orbit. It had been deliberately delayed to then so as to enable any symptoms of early-mission pace sickness to pass. Pre-breathing and anti-decom­pression precautions were carried out for the Feitian. The whole event was relayed live on Chinese television and its worldwide feed, beginning when Shenzhou 7 was passing over Malindi. There was a brief gap in signal as it left Malindi and was picked up by Tian Lian 1, which was to cover the crucial period of the space walk. Viewers could see the hatch being opened by the two yuhangyuan from within the orbital module. Later, the unfolding events would be followed on the outside by a backward-facing camera mounted on the front of the orbital module.

Zhai Zhigang and Liu Buoming had difficulty opening the hatch. Even though the cabin had depressurized, there was still sufficient air outgassing from items in the cabin to apply pressure on the hatch – identical to difficulties experienced by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldin when they tried to open their lunar module hatch for their walk on the Moon. Zhai Zhigang was the first to emerge in his Feitian suit and could be seen coming out of the hatchway with the length of Shenzhou in the foreground and the blue Earth in the background. With his body now well out of the

Shenzhou 7 seen in orbit from the BX-1 micro-satellite after the space walk. Courtesy:


hatch, he waved to all the viewers, greeting the Chinese people and all other viewers. Grabbing the handrail, he attached two tethers, one of which must be connected at a time. He then moved entirely out of Shenzhou, swam vertically, and, holding a small Chinese flag, waved it aloft to the world.

In the meantime, Liu Buoming emerged from the orbital module in his Russian – made Orlan suit. He stood by while Zhai Zhigang retrieved a small panel of experimental samples and handed it back to him inside. The purpose of the experimental package was to test 80 individual items of 11 types of solid lubricants and polymers and compare them with a ground sample: once back on the ground, the erosive nature of the space environment was apparent. After 14 min outside, Zhai Zhigang came back in and closed the hatch. Viewers watched the two yuhangyuan waiting in the orbital module for re-pressurization. Although it was a short space walk, this was very much in line with the duration of the Leonov and White space walks 40 years earlier. Depressurization time was 45 min, of which hatch open time was 22 min. Later, China intended to develop a manned maneuvering unit so that an astronaut could use its engines to move freely up to some distance away, without a tether. Several hours later, the subsatellite was released from the front of the orbital module. Later, the orbital module began its period of independent flight, making six changes of path, testing engines that would later be used on the Tiangong orbital station.

The following morning, the three yuhangyuan prepared to return to the Earth. The landing was again carried live on Chinese television. Retro-fire took place at 09:50 UT and, at 10:25, a dramatic image of the single parachute filled the screen, cameras following the cabin down all the way to touchdown at 10:36, the actual landing taking place behind a low hill. Cameras followed jeeps as they fanned out across the Mongolian grasslands and helicopters quickly touched down beside the cabin. Shenzhou had landed on its side and the hatch was soon open. In mission control, where Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was the principal visitor, there was relief and joy.

The crew was required to remain in the cabin for a half-hour for acclimatization so, in the meantime, water bottles were passed inside. Liu Buoming was first to emerge, followed by Zhai Zhigang and then Jing Haipeng. They were quickly seated in director’s chairs before being given flowers and making thank-you speeches. Later, they were brought away for a hero’s welcome in a motorcade with garlands of flowers. Mission time was 68 hr 28 min. With a full crew on a short mission, there was little scope for experiments on Shenzhou 7, but, echoing experiments carried out by the Soviet Union on Korabl Sputnik 2 in August 1960, Shenzhou 7 carried muscle cells to study the effects of spaceflight, finding that they became quite degraded over the short period of the mission. After the mission, the three yuhangyuan went on tour around the country. Shenzhou, with a Feitian suit and a Sokol suit, Zhai Zhigang’s gloves and flag, the recovered external samples, as well as a working model of Banxing were exhibited in the science museum in Hong Kong.

The 40-kg subsatellite provided quite a postscript for the mission. Called Banxing (“companion satellite”), built in Shanghai, it had its own thrusters and propulsion system for station-keeping and maneuvering. It appears to have been an initiative of the Academy of Sciences, like the Chuangxin micro-satellites. The satellite was developed by the Shanghai Satellite Engineering Centre with Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. It had, for the first time in China, a gallium arsenide solar array powering a lithium ion battery. Lead designer was Zhu Zhencai. The propulsion system used liquid ammonia vaporization. Following its spring ejection, its original orbit was the same as Shenzhou at the time, at 329-338 km, but, over the next week, it maneuvered first around Shenzhou and, later, its orbital module, maintaining a distance of 4-8 km for 25 orbits, practicing station-keeping with the orbital module. It operated within an ellipsoid of between 3,800 m and 7,600 m (figures of 540 m-20 km were also given), adjusting it six times, concluding its mission in January 2009. There were reports that it then moved away to a distance of 470 km, only to return to the orbital module. There was nothing new about such distance-and-chase maneuvers – they had been done by the USSR in the 1980s with the Czechoslovakian MAGION subsatellites – but it was a first for China. The subsatellite made a total of 13 maneuvers during its 100-day primary mission.

Banxing had two cameras, one wide-view and one narrow-view. Over 1,000 images were sent back by its two cameras, although only a small number – albeit excellent ones – were published. In January 2009, engineers reported that they were still in contact with the small spacecraft, which still had some fuel left. According to the subsequent mission report, Banxing demonstrated “inspection and proximity

alone-track relative posiiion km

The spiraling ellipses of the BX-1 flight pattern. Courtesy: COSPAR China.

operations” and tested new technologies such as gallium arsenide solar cells, lithium batteries, a micro-ammonia thruster, micro-attitude tracking controller, cameras with double-focusing systems, and a micro-USB responsor [13].

Banxing had a second postscript. American analyst Richard Fisher used data made available by the US Strategic Command to show that, 4 hr after its launch, Banxing flew to 45 km to the right of and below the ISS. Although the satellite was

released when the two were 500 km apart, at 15:07 UT, Banxing would have passed close to the ISS while they were overflying the sea between Australia and New Zealand. According to Fisher, the close pass arose either because the micro-satellite was out of control at the time, which was dangerously irresponsible, or there was a surreptitious maneuver to test on-orbit interceptions [14]. Banxing burned up on 29th October 2009, while the orbital module lasted longer, to 4th January 2010.


The Long March 3 was introduced in order to give China the capabihty of flying to geosynchronous orbit. Although a new name, it was actually an adaptation of its first two stages of the Long March 2, adding a powerful, hydrogen – fuelled upper stage, while later versions added strap-ons to give the rocket much extra lift at take-off. The Long March 3 was introduced in January 1984. Although the satellite launched was left stranded in low Earth orbit, the rocket has since then been used successfully for both domestic and foreign communications satellite launches (Chapter 5), as well as weather satellites (Chapter 6). After 13 missions, it was retired with the Feng Yun 2 weather satellite in 2000. The Long March 3 was a single stack, without strap-on rockets, and gave way to three variants: the ЗА, the powerful 3B, and the most recent, the 3C.

The Long March ЗА was the first variant of the Long March 3, introduced 10 years later, offering substantially improved performance and able to place about twice the weight in geosynchronous orbit. It had a stretched first stage and bigger third stage. The third stage was entirely redesigned and carried two YF-75 engines (rather than one on the Long March 3). Ten small engines were fitted to the third stage in an attempt to settle the propellant before its second ignition. The Long March ЗА had a new, advanced digital computer system. It has been used to fly communications and navigation satellites and, later, China’s first Moon probe.

The Long March ЗА continues in service, but is now supplemented by the Long March 3C, introduced on the Tian Lian data relay launch on 25th April 2008 and used subsequently for Beidou missions and the Chang e 2 lunar mission. In effect, it is the CZ-3A with two strap-ons, giving

Long March 2F profile, with escape tower on top. Courtesy: Mark Wade.

Long March 3 in its hangar, supported by trolleys. Courtesy: Cindy Liu.

it the much greater capacity of 3.9 tonnes to geostationary transfer orbit. This makes it much heavier (345 tonnes) and slightly taller (55 m).

The Long March 3B is the most powerful rocket in the Chinese armory of unmanned spaceflight (5,923-kN thrust), with four strap-on rockets to achieve a payload of between 4.8 and 5.5 tonnes to geosynchronous orbit. The 3B took a number of systems directly from the ЗА, such as engines, electronics, guidance, and computer controls, but with larger propellant tanks, a larger nose fairing, and better computer. The Long March 3B got off to a bad start, crashing on its maiden flight on St Valentine’s Day in 1996, but subsequently going on to be China’s main lifter of domestic and foreign communications satellites. Modifications were made in 2009 to increase payload to 5.5 tonnes (lengthening the booster by 77 cm, the first stage by 1.49 m, and modifying the fins). Details are given in Table 3.5.


The United States and Soviet Union were the first two countries to introduce navigation satellites: the GPS and GLONASS, respectively, with Europe (Galileo, which includes China as a financial investor) and India (GAGAN) coming later. A Chinese system was approved in 1983 and, to save development costs, the Dong Fang Hong 3 communications satellite design was used, giving it a weight of 2,200 kg. China had developed sophisticated atomic clocks far in advance of Western ones. Under the guidance of Gua Guantan of the Chinese Science & Technology University, China had built a quantum computational center in 1999, learned how to use lasers to cool atoms, and conquered the problem of the atomic fountain [19]. These clocks, much more advanced than the old Western caesium clocks, reputedly had an accuracy of 1 sec in 30m years. Appointed chief designer of the system was Sun Jiadong, a natural choice granted his leadership of the DFH-2 and 3 series.

China’s first navigation satellite appeared on 31st October 2000. Following a midnight launch, a Long March ЗА placed the satellite at 140°E at 36,000 km with complete precision 10 days after leaving Xi Chang. It was given the name Beidou, the Chinese word for the Plough constellation, or the Big Dipper. Two months later, on 21st December, Beidou 2 followed. The last satellite to be launched that year, it reached its final destination at 80°E three days before the end of the old year and (strictly speaking) the millennium. With satellites at 80°E and 140°E, the Chinese

The Long March ЗА, used to lift the Beidou navigation satellite to orbit.

system appeared to follow a third way, quite different from the United States and Russia, providing a regional, rather than a global, system, using only two spacecraft, functional between the longitudes of Arabia and eastern Australia, centered on the Chinese landmass. Western analysts were puzzled by this system. Suspecting ulterior purpose, the suggestion was made that Beidou was a cunning way of providing accuracy measurements during the key over-the-horizon stages of the flight path of a nuclear strike when the DF-5A missiles curved over the North Pole en route to destroy the cities of the eastern United States [20].

China also booked an orbital location at 110.5°E. This was explained initially as the location for a spare, but then as the third element of a three-part system. A third Beidou, Beidou 3, duly arrived there on 24th May 2003. Like its predecessors, Beidou 3 reached the point following a 200-41,991 km super-synchronous orbit. Each satellite would fire thrusters every month to maintain its position in orbit to within 1°, or 150 km of its hover point. The system was first tested with Beijing’s 7,000-strong bus fleet in 1999, which had its own form of mission control room. Later, they said, Beidou would provide accurate navigational fixes for ships, road and rail transport, and presumably also for aircraft. It transpired that these were experimental tests for a later, operational system. They nevertheless served their makers well, for the first Beidou worked until October 2010, when it began to drift off station and reached 59°E. Beidou 1-2 and 1-3 were both retired on the same day: 21st November 2011.

China was ready to proceed with an operational system seven years after the first launch. The first intended operational Beidou took a super-synchronous orbit on 2nd February 2007 and arrived on station by the end of the month. There are quite contradictory reports as to what happened next. Orbital Debris Quarterly News quoted the US Space Surveillance Network as saying that there had been an engine explosion when it reached apogee on the first day of its mission, leaving 70-100 debris items – almost certainly a catastrophic explosion. China admitted that there were problems with the solar panels and, by mid-April, had moved the satellite to a stable orbit at 144°E, close to Beidou 1 at 140°E. There it stayed until it was maneuvered off station on 30th September and relocated to 147°E two weeks later, eventually retiring in February 2009. The 14th April 2009 launch also appears to have been even more problematical and it rapidly drifted off station.

The next Beidou followed in quick succession on 13th April 2007 and entered its final orbit on the 17th. To general amazement, it headed for a completely different type of orbit – 21,000 km, 55°, circling the Earth every 773 min or approximately every 12 hr. This was a type of orbit used by Russia for its GLONASS navigation satellites, although lower (19,000 km, period 675 min). It remained the only satellite of its type for five years when two were launched together in May 2012, this time using the CZ-3B for the first time in the series. The launch trajectory took the CZ-3B to the south-east, over Hainan Island, before heading over the Gulf of Tonking. They were given the designation MEO 3 and 4 (MEO for Medium Earth Orbit), even though MEO 2 was never listed. One explanation is that the medium-Earth – orbit version required a special type of clock. It is reported that China ordered 18-20 rubidium clocks from Spectratime in Switzerland, famed for a geographical accuracy

Beidou being fitted out.

of 10 m and a timing accuracy of 50 nanoseconds, and developing its application for this orbit took some time.

Ever incapable of leaving a numbering system alone, China now renumbered the series. First, these missions were called Beidou 2 (with 2-1, 2-2, and 2A, 2B subsequently, etc., being used). Then a new term, DW, also appeared, standing for Beidou Daohang Weixing, for Beidou Navigation Satellite, so this was DW1. This was further complicated by the announcement that Beidou would be subdivided into three sub-series: the G, the I, and the M, each with its own sub-designators. Sometimes the Chinese also applied the term “Compass”, referring to it as the “Compass System”. They defined the operational system as comprising 35 satelhtes by 2020:

• 5 satellites at GEO at the equator (0°), the G series, standing for geosynchronous;

• 3 satellites at GEO at 55°, the I series, Inclined Geo Synchronous Orbit (IGSO);

• 27 satellites at 21,000 km (GLONASS-type orbit), the M series (medium).

The 13th April 2007 launch was therefore called Beidou 2-1, or Compass Ml (1M was also used) or DW1. What appeared to be a simple, two-satellite regional navigation system had suddenly become more complicated. What the Chinese were

Beidou fitted into its launch shroud.

doing was using a constellation of three overlapping types of orbits (equatorial synchronous, inclined synchronous, and GLONASS) to ensure high accuracy. The signaling system varied from one type to the other, the G series using relays, the I series using caesium clocks, and the M series using rubidium clocks.

Beidou DW5 took an orbit that had never been seen before: the inclined synchronous. This was the first of the I or IGSO series, with two more and two

spares following in quick succession within the next 18 months (DW7, 8, 9, and 10). Satellites which circle the Earth every 24 hr had always been positioned over the equator but, this time, the Beidou was inclined in high orbit 55° above the equator, presumably to look down over the northern Chinese landmass.

After this, there was a return to the original Beidou model of 24-hr geosynchronous orbit over the equator (DW3, 4, 6, 11). By summer 2012, the system comprised 13 satellites – four GEO, six inclined synchronous, and three MEO – and was on course for completion of the full system, making it by any standards a significant national project.

The extent of use of the system was unclear. As was the case with GLONASS in Russia, the system was principally used by the public sector, where it had at least 40,000 customers. The value to the economy was estimated to be ¥50bn, scheduled to rise to ¥225bn (€25bn) by 2015. Most individuals continued to use the American GPS. Planned economies were notoriously slow to promote navigation satellites with ordinary consumers, with Russia only persuaded to do so when President Putin saw its value in relocating his lost dog to whom a receiver had been attached. One application was the fishing industry, where more than 30,000 receivers were installed on fishing boats. The lead had been taken by Hainan’s regional government, which began by installing 6,000 receivers at a cost of ¥79m (€10m), requiring the fishermen to pay 10% of the costs. China has over a million fishing boats, but hardly any of them had modem safety devices and the Beidou terminal could also be used to send distress calls. The series is summarized in Table 6.10.

Table 6.10. Beidou series.

Synchronous, 140°E Synchronous, 80°E Synchronous, 110.5°E Probable failure 55°, medium

Synchronous, 85°E, probable failure

Synchronous, 160°E, later 140°E

Synchronous, 84.6°E

55° inclined synchronous, 118°E

Synchronous, 160°E

55° inclined synchronous, 118°E

55° inclined synchronous, 118°E

55° inclined synchronous, 93°E, spare

55° inclined synchronous, 93°E, spare

Synchronous, 58.6°E

55°, medium

All from Xi Chang. Inclined orbits highlighted in italics.