It can be disputed if it is possible to speed up Chinese space program beyond level reached in 2016. New space station, next generations of Beidou navigation satellites, new launch vehicles and trials of the new manned spacecraft – everything seems to run with full speed. Chinese authorities would like to keep things on same level in following years.
Document was announced today on press conference at State Council Information Office in Beijing. Publication is known as “China’s Space Activities in 2016” and is fourth in a row after identical reports published on 2000, 2006 and 2011. It is summary of present achievements of Chinese space industry composed with forecasts and vision of the future role of space industry in Chinese economy, politics and society. It is worth to point that this document is very important and in fact it should be considered as official plan for following years.
Most important are purposes of the whole space program; we can read in the document, that most important is peaceful utilization of space technologies:
“To explore outer space and enhance understanding of the earth and the cosmos; to utilize outer space for peaceful purposes, promote human civilization and social progress, and benefit the whole of mankind; to meet the demands of economic, scientific and technological development, national security and social progress; and to improve the scientific and cultural levels of the Chinese people, protect China’s national rights and interests, and build up its overall strength.”
Still interesting is the end of the paragraph, where particular stress was put on protecting Chinese national rights. It comes along with declaration by President Xi Jinping, who recently announced to keep the schedule of anti satellite weapon tests. Next parts of the document contains description of vision of the future: keeping as main objective development of own technologies, but without avoiding international cooperation. It was not mentioned, which countries are primarily considered as potential partners for China, but it should be considered as invitation for every country decided to start cooperation with China. We can read following sentence:
“…to make scientific discovery and research at the cutting edge, to promote strong and sustained economic and social development, to effectively and reliably guarantee national security, to exercise sound and efficient governance, and to carry out mutually beneficial international exchanges and cooperation;”
It is also worth to mention about principles declared by “China’s Space Activities in 2016”. Future of the space program will be build on strong fundamentals: innovations and development in both technology, science and institutional dimension; coordination – this fragment should be maybe named “central coordination” – all space activities should be part of the larger plan and serve one goal – improving ” the quality and efficiency of overall space development.”. Interpretation of this part can be both positive or negative – from the good side, coordination can be good and help in keeping control on the budget of different organizations and avoiding situations when different similar projects are developed by different organizations. From the bad side – Chinese scientist probably can forget about any space research program for civilian purpose which will not bring any short term benefits. Again, among principals we can find peaceful development and already mentioned in the quotation above international cooperation.
After part, when we can read summarization of last five years, we can find plans for following years. First place was reserved for new space transportation system covering new medium-lift launch vehicles fueled with non-toxic propellants like LOX and Kerosene. Technologies tested during development of medium rockets will be base for creating new heavy launch vehicles. China will also put effort for developing reusable technology and lowering cost of reaching LEO orbit in future. As second was mentioned balanced development of three new constellations of remote sensing, communication and navigation satellites. Their ground segments will be connected with network to serve better with collected data for industry. One of the most important was another objective – starting to provide Beidou navigation services in 2018 for countries along Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-century Maritime Silk Road. Document also assumes extensive manned space exploration with Tiangong-2 space station, establishing new space station suitable for permanent habitation and start of the program of exploring cislunar space.
Deep space exploration will be also developed: Chang’e-5 lunar probe will be launched in the end of 2017 and Chang’e-4 is planned for 2018. First mission to Mars with planned orbiting and roving exploration is set for 2020. Of course all three missions assumes gathering samples and return to Earth. CNSA will also continue developing Shijian science satellites for experiments on orbit. These will cover latest technologies like electric propulsion or laser communication. Launch sites and space centers will be continuously modernized just like like telemetry, tracking and command systems. They will be switched to new constellation of data relay satellites more applicable for future deep space missions. China will also try to find possible utilization for space technologies in different segments of industry. Satellite technologies will also help in equal development of different parts of China – communication satellites will provide internet access for distant regions of country. It will help in improving availability of public services and increase grow of national economy.
Of course also science applications were mentioned in the report. China will continue to seek evidence of dark matter; CNSA will launch hard X ray telescope to study matter dynamics; number of experiments with utilization of Shijian satellites is planned: from biology, medicine, material design or physics. CNSA planned also developing experiments of quantum key transmission. Atmosphere and ionosphere still will be subject of experiments in following years, just like space debris and Near Earth Objects.
Report ends with sum up of cooperation with other countries and list of the projects, where international cooperation will be most desirable.