ExoMars started !

Today, punctually at 09:31:42 GMT, ExoMars mission started. Proton-M with Briz-M upper stage lifted off, with Schiaparelli EDM on atop, from Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site 200/39 in its second mission in 2016 and 411th in Proton launch vehicle history.

Cooperation between ESA and Roscosmos reached next milestone. Today from Baikonur Cosmodrome Proton-M rocket lifted Schiaparelli Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM) with Trace Gas Orbiter under ExoMars program. Mission has two objectives. First is gather data about presence of methane in Mars atmosphere by Trace Gas Orbiter. Second is testing of technologies necessary for landing on the Mars surface by EDM. These experiences will improve knowledge of European and Russian engineers before planned for 2018 mission of ExoMars rover.

Proton-M with ear-rending sound of six RD-253 engines started to lift off at 09:34 GMT. First stage was working correctly and after 2 minutes of flight first stage was shut down and second stage started to continue engine flight separately. Three RD-210 and one central RD-211 engines started to operate with full thrust of 2399 kN. Rocket at T+5’27” performed separation between second and third stage and at T+5’49” payload fairing was jettisoned. After 585 seconds of flight, at T+9’45” Briz-M upper stage was separated from the third stage and prepared for first burn. Its S5.98 (GRAU 14D30) engine started at T+11’16” for the first time. Remaining on parking orbit on altitude of 175 km, Briz-M started engine again at T+1h38’ to reach elliptical orbit and continued its ballistic flight. Next two burns of Briz-M will be performed in fourth and tenth hours of flight. Separation of EDM/TGO from Briz-M is planned for 20:12 GMT 5000 km from Earth.

Roscosmos utilized during ExoMars mission reliable and trusted Proton-M rocket. designed in the by Krunichev State Research and Production Space Center. Based on design of Proton-K, Proton-M was considered as its replacement but it was used simultaneously with Proton-K for 11 years. Proton-M has lot of common with its predecessor – 77% of parts are interchangeable, 18% are modernized and only 5% of parts were designed from the scratch. Proton-M remains in production since 2001 and until now it reached success ratio at 94% (2% more than Proton-K so it seems that changes were right). Rocket is liquid fueled with N2O4/UDMH which is also propellant for Briz-M upper stage. Rocket weighs 712800 kg with height at 58 m and diameter at 7.4 m. First stage is built with main oxidizer tank as base of construction. Around tank, six RD-253-14D14 engines, each with own fuel tank, were mounted; engines were equipped with 7° twirl range for thrust vector control and are providing 10532 kN of thrust. Due problems with remaining toxic fuel in tanks of the first stage, which were spilled in wide terrain around impact site, additional purge propellant system was installed and also increased thrust. Second stage is height for 14 m and is equipped with three RD-210 and one RD-211 providing thrust at 2399 kN and additional six solid fueled engines. They are fired during separation with third stage to reduce speed and help in avoiding collision of both stages. Third stage (long for 6.5 m) is equipped with RD-213 and RD-214 engines. They are combined in one RD-212 engine unit, where RD-213 is central motor and RD-214, equipped with four nozzles, is responsible for stabilizing rocket in flight. RD-212 is generating thrust at 613.8 kN. Stage is also equipped in solid fueled thrusters for reducing speed and minimalizing risk of collision with deployed payload or upper stage. Proton-M could be used with following upper stages: Briz-M is powered by one S5.98M with thrust at 19.6 kN, Blok-DM-2 powered by one RD-58 engine with thrust at 85 kN or Blok-DM-3 with one RD-58MFengine generating thrust at 79 kN

On picture above You can see scaled models of EDM on the left side and ExoMars rover on the right side.

Sources:
http://www.khrunichev.ru/main.php
https://www.youtube.com/user/tvroscosmos
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proton-M

 

Resurs-P3 satellite launched successfully after halted countdown yesterday

Scheduled for 12 March 2016 launch of Russian was halted yesterday and postponed for today.

Launch was planned for yesterday on 18:56 GMT. Resurs-P3, remote sensing satellite, should reach space on atop of Soyuz-2.1b from launch site 31, pad 6 at Baikonur Cosmodrome. Unfortunately during countdown engines were automatically shut down and countdown was halted. Official statement for Tass news agency covered only new launch date but no explanation what caused that automatic engine shutdown procedure.

Today launch was performed according to plan. After countdown rocket lifted off, according to plan, at 18:56 GMT. Soyuz-2.1b supported by four boosters lifted slowly over Baikonur Cosmodrome. All parameters were correct and after two minutes of flight boosters were jettisoned (according to official flight plan at T+116’3″). Next key moment of flight was separating of the second stage, jettisoning tail section and payload fairings (planned for T+288′-T+289′) in the fourth minute of mission. After over five minutes of flight (planned for T+557’8″) engines were shut down and Resurs-P3 should be deployed after another 3.3 seconds.

Resurs-P3 satellite will perform multispectral observation from 470 km – 483 km orbit (with inclination at 97.276°) for next five years of planned operational life along with Resurs-P1 (lunched in 2013) and Resurs-P2 (launched in 2014). It has possibility to take images with maximal resolution up to 1 m in monochromatic mode (Geoton-L1 telescope) with width of imaging surface up to 38 km. Satellite will downlink images thanks to Sangur-1U computer unit. It stores, converts and send data to onboard transponder which transmits data on X band to ground receiving stations with speed at 300 Mbit/s. Satellite is equipped with 20 square meters solar arrays and is long for 7 m. Its diameter is around 2.7 m with total mass up to 5920 kg.

Sources:
http://tass.ru/en/science/861907

Jeff Bezos announced first commercial flights of New Shepard for 2018

Blue Origin started to lose its mysterious aura and for the first time invited journalists for press conference and tour in their headquarters and development facility in Kent, Washington. New facts about future plans of Blue Origin were unveiled by Jeff Bezos himself.

Blue Origin is again in the forehead of the something what could be called “reusability space race”. After first in the world successful landing of space rocket in November 23, 2015 and repeating this on January 22, 2016, Blue Origin is truly leader of implementing reusable technology. Now it seems that Jeff Bezos would like to begin reaping the fruits of his work as soon as possible.

Jeff Bezos during tour around facility was answering for questions from journalists. He was not hiding the fact that he would like to start commercial flights in 2018 with first experimental manned flight on 2017. However he put great stress on matter of safe which is crucial for commercial success. Bezos stated that:

“I want us to be safe. If we end up being first that would be fine. But that’s not the goal,”

The goal for Jeff Bezos is performing about one hundred commercial flights per year – one hundred safety flights what makes one flight every three days. It is more than satisfying level of availability for first large scale space touristic venture. If we multiply 100 flights with number of passengers which could remain in the New Shepard capsule we will get 600 space tourists per year. Even counting half price offered by Virgin Galactic (Virgin offers price for ticket for one flight at $250000) and multiplying it by 600 it will give $75 million per year. It is serious profit but it is only fraction of costs which were covered by Jeff Bezos during establishing and further development of Blue Origin.

Approach of Jeff Bezos to starting commercial activity is serious. Presently Blue Origin employs around 600 people and this number is planned to be raised to 1000 employees in late 2016. Also Blue Origin planned to increase number of capsules for their “New Shepard” touristic spacecraft up to six in the end of 2016. They will be manufactured in their Kent facility along with the BE-4 engines for Vulcan rocket developed by United Launch Alliance. Jeff Bezos is keeping in mind his second great project – rocket engine BE-4. In Kent facility he planned to develop this construction and start production. Contracting engines for Vulcan rocket seems future source of big money for Blue Origin and surely it is future of Blue Origin.

On picture above: Earth seen from edge of space – this view is worth all money of the world isn’t it?

Sources:
https://www.blueorigin.com/news
http://money.cnn.com/2016/03/09/technology/jeff-bezos-space/index.html

 

Milestone in Electra program reached – SES, OHB and ESA agreement signed !

On 11 March 2016 in SES in Luxembourg agreement between SES, OHB and ESA was signed. It seems that program of developing new European telecommunication satellite with electric propulsion is reaching the positive end.

Electra program was established in 2013 as initiative of European Space Agency under ARTES-33 plan for supporting innovative solutions by ESA cooperation with chosen private companies. Electra main objective was to create new generation of satellites with participation of European space industry. Program was focused on accelerating of developing alternative, electric based, propulsion technology which could be implemented in both commercial and non-commercial satellites manufactured in Europe. Program was started as public-private cooperation between ESA and SES, large private telecommunication company based in Luxembourg. Due the long and successful cooperation between SES and OHB, this German company also was involved into Electra program along with DLR (German Space Agency) which was one of the sponsors of program. Objectives were ambitious – first milestone was planned for 2014. It was choosing commercial mission, which could test potential of new electric powered satellite. Next milestone was scheduled for 2018 when first mission of new satellite would start. It gave only few years for developing satellite platform with full electric propulsion, with the ESA assumption that new propulsion should reduce start weight of satellite for about 40% (and of course help in increasing payload capacity). Whole program is strong support for German space industry, which should bring positive results for whole Europe. Such assumption was presented in 2013 by Director General of ESA Jean-Jacques Dordain:

“Electra represents three partnerships in one: between SES and OHB, to develop the best solution for SES and the future needs of other satellite operators; between SES and ESA, to offer the best possible validation in orbit of a new technology; and between ESA and DLR to capitalize on previous investments. These three partnerships is the best way to optimize the use of public and private funds for enhancing the competitiveness of the European sector.”

Platform preliminary design was started on 17 December 2014 and in 2015 OHB chose their SmallGEO satellite platform (SGEO) to integrate with new propulsion. It is platform for small communication satellites offering 300 kg payload capacity with 3 kW of power and estimated operational life of 15 years. SGEO was also chosen for first EDRS satellite (European Data Relay System based on Eutelsat owned satellites). OHB started integrating new propulsion into SGEO and was continuing this work during 2015.

Yesterday, on 11 March 2016 following representatives of ESA, SES and OHB signed agreement:  Karim Sabbagh (President and CEO of SES), Marco Fuchs (CEO of OHB), Jan Woerner (Director General of ESA) and Magali Vaissiere (Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications in ESA). Agreement covers important detail – first mission with utilization of new satellite platform is planned for 2021, what means that program is delayed for three years comparing to original schedule.

Electra is one of the latest ESA programs which are objected on stimulating developing new technologies to shorten distance between Europe and USA. Just like EDRS (read more here), which will be commercialized by Eutelsat, SGEO with electric propulsion will be surely valuable gift for OHB and SES from ESA. Let’s put trust in ESA, that unlike EDRS it won’t be gift only for these two companies.

Sources:
https://www.ohb-system.de/tl_files/system/pdf/OHB_GB_13_E.pdf
http://www.esa.int/For_Media/Press_Releases/ESA_drives_forward_with_all-electric_telecom_satellites
http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Telecommunications_Integrated_Applications/All-electric_satellites_in_sight_for_Europe
https://artes.esa.int/news/electra
https://artes.esa.int/artes-33/overview

Space Shuttle heritage – RS-25 flight engine testing started

RS-25 engine which was used during five Space Shuttle missions backs in style. NASA started planned firing tests of flight engines for SLS.

Space Launch System, new NASA rocket for manned missions, will inherit something from last truly outstanding NASA project. It was the propulsion – first reusable rocket engine in history – Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25. Engine entered service as propulsion of Space Shuttles in 1981 and remained (of course with upgrades and different changes in construction) as propulsion of Space Shuttles until their retirement in 2011. One of most important advantages of RS-25 became reliability what was probably one of reasons for picking RS-25 as future propulsion of SLS. According to Garry Lyles, chief engineer for the Space Launch System:

“During the 30-year run of the Space Shuttle Program, the RS-25 achieved very high demonstrated reliability,”

Of course to meet NASA demands engine would be modernized. It will be equipped in new computer control unit, propellant composition was modified and some parts were made with different materials (also with 3D printing technology). In 2015 NASA started tests of partially modified engines and planned to continue burning tests in 2016. On 10 March 2016 on the A-1 Test Stand at Stennis Space Center engineers started to test flight engines. These engines are remaining from Space Shuttle program and were actually used during STS missions. They will be used in first missions of Space Launch System, including maiden flight in 2018. This moment is very important for NASA and Stennis team. Engines are tested with 109% thrust level; also trials with new computer control unit will be started. For 2017 tests of four RS-25, flight engines for first mission of SLS, is planned, so experience with present tests will be very useful. It seems that new time in NASA, time of SLS, is really getting closer.

Sources:
http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-prepares-to-fly-first-rs-25-flight-engine-test-set-for-march

 

PSLV XL success – IRNSS-1F on orbit !

Second launch of Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) satellite in 2016 became success – ISRO confirmed with this launch that PSLV is reliable rocket and India has potential to offer launch services on very high level.

Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System is developing and this year is good example of consequence of ISRO in implementing own navigation system. Three satellites were scheduled for 2016 and today we are after second launch of IRNSS-1F and sixth, penultimate satellite from IRNSS series. Launch was performed at 10:31 GMT. After twenty minutes at 10:41 GMT satellite was deployed by fourth stage of the rocket and started series of maneuvers to reach correct orbital slot 32.5° East at altitude of 35700 km and inclination at 5°.

Satellite is based on I-1K bus developed by ISRO with operational life at around 12 years. Satellite dimensions are 1.505 m × 1.476 m × 1.530 m with mass at 1425 kg. Satellite’s power consumption is 1300 w which are provided by two deployable solar arrays combined with onboard battery. Propulsion of the satellite is Liquid Apogee Motor with 440 N of thrust and 12 thrusters for performing maneuvers (each providing 22 N). Satellite is equipped with following devices: Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) device with retroreflector array, Rubidium atomic clock, L5 (frequency of 1176.45 MHz) and S band (frequency of 2492.028 MHz) transponders for downlink, C band transponder for determining satellite position, C band transponder for uplink on frequency 6700 – 6725 MHz and downlink on 3400-3425 MHz and additional laser rangefinder.

According to previous assumptions, due the mass of satellite, ISRO decided to utilize PSLV XL rocket in this mission. PSLV XL is still long for 44 m and equipped with six boosters rocket with mixed solid and liquid propulsion, but boosters were stretched comparing to PSLV. They are called PSOM-XL and are equipped in bigger boosters (1m diameter and length at 13.5 m) with 30% more solid fuel (12000 kg). Rocket weighs 320000 kg and is able to lift 1425 kg to GTO orbit. Central core with four stages is identical as core of PSLV. First stage is powered by solid fueled (HTPB) S139 engine with 4800 kN of thrust. Second stage is equipped with one Vikas engine liquid fueled with N2O4/UDMH and providing 799 kN of thrust. Third stage is again equipped with solid fueled propulsion – HPS3 engine generates 240 kN of thrust. Fourth stage is powered by two L-2-5 engines with thrust at 15.2 kN burning liquid MMH/MON propellant.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polar_Satellite_Launch_Vehicle#Variants
http://www.isro.gov.in/irnss-programme

Future of Angara – not as clear as it might seem ?

Angara rocket was announced as future modular launch vehicle for commercial and not commercial use with high potential even covering lifting manned Moon lander. Is it really possible that economical problem would limit possibilities of using new rocket in favor to old launch vehicles and cancel Russian plans for manned Moon mission before 2030 ?

Problems of Russian space industry are nothing new but their scale should really force Russian government to consider if aggressive foreign politic is giving satisfied results. After limiting future plans for developing own Mars and Moon space programs, unknown future of planned Russian space station program (after decommissioning of International Space Station) and redundancies in the space industry plants it was obvious that situation is not as bright as official media would like to be. Gigantic problems with Vostochny Cosmodrome like stretched budget, delays and huge problems with corruption made one of biggest space investments in Russia under question in matter of profitability; it showed alternative face of Russian demo investment. But even after unveiled problems with Vostochny it seemed that presenting new Angara rocket and its further introduction into launch schedule is rather unthreatened. Unfortunately not for long – both Vostochny and Angara rocket future could be not necessary positive. Angara rocket family was developed since 1992 and mainly was created to be launched from cosmodromes in the territory of Russia to omit Baikonur in Kazakhstan. It was based on new RD-191 (fueled with LOX/RP-1) engine by Energomash which could provide enough thrust even for making possible lifting up to 24 t (to 40 t in case of Angara-5V) of payload  for LEO (Angara-5 and Angara-5V were planned as potential lifting vehicle for future manned missions to Moon).  Until now only two launches were performed, both in 2014: Angara-1.2PP (for testing RD-191 engine and URM-2 upper stage only) and Angara-5 (heavy version with four boosters and core stage). Key for further development of Russian space program Angara-5V is delayed and its first test flight was put into the future over 2025 according to article on Tass news agency web site from January 2016. Only two days before announcing about delay in Angara-5V development, Tass announced, on 20 January 2016, that Vostochny Cosmosdrome will have only one launch pad for heaviest Angara-5V officially due the necessary cost cutting. It is one of the last phases of building Vostochny Cosmodrome which should be commissioned on 2020 so it is rather impossible that in last moment Roscosmos will change mind and put additional pad into the plan. Next information came yesterday – according to Tass, Igor Arbuzov, CEO of Energomash, stated:

“The leadership of the Roscosmos State Corporation has set us the task to optimize the RD-191 engine’s production costs to make the Angara launch vehicle competitive on the world market of space launches,”

It is not good news – for 2016 only one Angara-A5 equipped in RD-191 is scheduled (upper stage will be Briz-M). It will be serious mission with commercial payload but still only one flight per year is not impressive – it seems that Angara-5V strays away simply because of high costs of implementing many new technologies in short time. It is important to remember that Angara is first rocket developed after collapsing of USSR, so since 1991 Russian space industry was rather kind if defensive player. To catch up with the previous twenty five years Roscosmos would need lot of money which in present state of Russian Ruble and low oil prices could become impossible. Putting number of launch pads, for rather crucial rocket for Russian space program, on cost cutting list seems to be clear confirmation that Angara-5V felt into far place of “to do” list for Roscosmos and that ambitious plans will be postponed. It is possible that costs of Angara-5 will be extremely high for Roscosmos and it will remain for a long time rocket for special military tasks or profitable commercial missions where heavy payload should be delivered.

On picture above: Vostochny Cosmodrome, picture taken on July 2015.

Sources:
http://tass.ru/en/science/861238
http://tass.ru/en/science/851546
http://tass.ru/en/science/850717
http://www.russianspaceweb.com/angara5v.html

Mars InSight with green light from NASA !

After multiple problems in the end of 2015 and with increasing probability of halting NASA participation in program on 2016, we have NASA final voice in discussion. InSight will start its mission in 2018 in first possible launch window.

InSight (Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport) was one of fundamental Mars research missions, example of well-organized and providing multiple benefits cooperation of USA and Europe in space. NASA (and Jet Propulsion Laboratory), CNES (French space agency) and DLR (German space agency) signed agreement for cooperation in creating Mars lander on February 2014.  Lander was planned to be based on Phoenix Mars landing vehicle (which reached Mars surface on May 25, 2008 to search for traces of microbial life) combined with various devices for measuring seismic activity of Red Planet. NASA and JPL were set to be responsible for creating lander and part of scientific payload, CNES role was designing and manufacturing SEIS seismometer and DLR, in cooperation with German Aerospace Center, developed HP3 (Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package – device for monitoring flow of the heat from Mars core to surface). Mission launch was scheduled for March 2016 with Atlas V rocket. Unfortunately problems appeared during final tests and assembly of CNES seismometer. CNES engineers spotted leakage in November 2015. Even if leakage was extremely small, it made whole SEIS device out of order, because seismometer was designed to operate only in vacuum conditions. It appeared that CNES managed to fix leakage, but in December 2015 it was spotted again in another place of SEIS. This time it became clear that launch in March 2016 would be not possible. CNES confirmed in January that leakage would not be fixed in time which would let keep the mission schedule. Situation became hard due the necessity of covering costs of additional fixing SEIS by CNES and for NASA, which was forced to cover costs of cancelled launch and storing lander for next 26 months to next launch window on May 2018 (read more here). NASA started to consider even leaving whole program; luckily lack of sense launching InSight without SEIS and rather sad perspective of explaining in Congress reasons of cancelling such expensive program without any results, finally forced NASA to made only one proper decision. Insight is now scheduled for 2018 with (hopefully) fully operational SEIS. CNES, which recently confirmed that reason of leakage was discovered and problem was solved permanently, decided to participate in further costs of storing InSight lander (which were estimated for $150 million) in spite of lack previous declarations in agreement from 2014. Again it seems that science won over economy and Mars will became explored only with little delay.

On picture above: next time this parachute will open on Mars – testing of Insight lander parachute required for reducing speed before touch down.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_(spacecraft)
http://www.dlr.de/dlr/en/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-10081/151_read-4793/year-all/#/gallery/7088

 

Ariane 5 ECA & Eutelsat-65 West A – 274th Arianespace flight became success !

Today in the early morning hours Ariane 5 ECA rocket lifted off new communication and broadcasting satellite for Eutelsat from ELA-3, Kourou, French Guiana.

Today Ariane-5 lifted off from ELA-3 complex in Guiana Space Center to its 85th mission (274th mission by Arianespace). Ariane lifted new Eutelsat satellite designed and manufactured by SSL (with utilization of SSL-1300 satellite bus).

Lift off started two minutes later then it was planned, at 05:22 GMT. Long for 50.5 m (with diameter of 5.4 m) and weighing 777000 kg rocket started to rise. All three engines (core Vulcain-2 and two P238 in solid fueled boosters) were working correctly and after T+2’30” both boosters shut down and separated. In T+3’50” payload fairing was jettisoned on altitude of 205 km with rocket speed at 8300 km/h. After next 5 minutes of supersonic flight, at T+9’15”, Vulcain-2 engine was turned off. Upper stage, equipped in one HM7B generating 67 kN of thrust, continued powered flight. Time of separation was getting close, at 05:41 GMT rocket reached speed of over 30000 km/h. At T+25’00” HM7B was shut down and second stage is preparing for deployment of satellite. After next two minutes at 05:48 GMT Eutelsat-65 West A separated from second stage of Ariane 5 ECA.  Ariane 5 lifted it to orbit with apogee 35746 km, perigee at 2250 km and inclination 0.5°. Eutelsat-65 was designed for operating on geostationary orbit for 15 years from 65° west longitude slot. It will cover with its range South America. It will help Eutelsat in expanding on DTH market and broadband access market in Brazil thanks due its 24 Ku band transponders. With such impressive Ku band payload it will improve possibilities of corporate connectivity for Central America, the Caribbean and the Andean territories. It will also provide live broadcasting across Atlantic during Rio de Janeiro Olympics. C band transponders installed on Eutelsat-65 West A will bring video streaming in South America to the next level in terms of quality and speed.

Sources:
http://www.eutelsat.com/en/satellites/future-satellites/EUTELSAT-65WA.html
http://www.arianespace.com/mission/ariane-flight-va229/

New Chinese space ambitions unveiled !

Chinese news agency Xinhua put in public new Chinese objectives in space program. It is even more interesting because that information is probably based on interview with high-ranking military.

From the beginning Chinese space program was never divided into civilian and military subprograms. It happened that military satellites were covered as civilian or scientific missions (very often that civilian remote sensing satellite for urban planning proved to be strictly military satellite) and due the very limited information for public opinion and created impression that Chinese armed forces subdued whole space program. Of course it was not truth – in spite of many commercial and strictly civilian launches China has many scientific and research space programs which are not part of any military program. But it should be remembered that Chinese People’s Liberation Army was sponsor of many crucial projects and was one of the biggest customers. It was also best advertisement for Chinese space industry. Many technologies like Beidou navigation system thanks to be utilized and ordered by Chinese Military became good export commodity (Beidou won competition with GPS in contest for new navigation system for Pakistani army). It should not be surprising that voice of the any high-rank representative of Chinese armed forces should be listened very carefully because PLA has lot to say in matter of space program in China. Presented by Xinhua statements of Lt Gen. Zhang Yulin are important sign of new ways of development of Chinese space program not without reason. Zhang Yulin is Doctor of Engineering from the Department of Industrial Automation of Zhejiang University and since 2011 Deputy Director of the PLA General Armaments Department.

On 7 March 2016 (according to Xinhua) Lt Gen. Zhang Yulin announced that after successful establishing Chinese space station, China should start exploration of the space between Earth and Moon mainly with possessing resources in mind. Unfortunately it was not clearly declared, if Lt Gen. Zhang Yulin considered planned for 2016 Tiangong-2 or next planned Tiangong-3 or target large multimodular space station. It was only mentioned that such exploration should start after 2020. We can assume that Zhang Yulin probably thought about Tiangong-3 but it is unknown if Tiangong will be any part of new exploration program. It was only confirmed that first works were already started. Most interesting is opinion by Lt Gen. Zhang Yulin about possibility of Moon exploration for resources. It sounds that China is seriously considering exploration of space resources. After USA and Belgium which prepared special space exploration acts China is trying to jump over the competitors and became a leader (China military would not rather wait for special laws or acts if it will consider that some actions are necessary). But purpose of space mining is not commercial in case of China. Water from ice on the Moon could be used for production of rocket fuel (oxygen and hydrogen) in space and silicon dioxide, which is easily reachable on the Moon, could be used for manufacturing solar arrays. According to Xinhua, both resources would be used in orbital power plant. It could provide rocket propellant which would be electrolyzed from water with using electricity from solar arrays. Such station could be fully automatic and create new perspectives for Mars mission. According to Lt Gen. Zhang Yulin it is important to utilize current possibilities:

“The future of China’s manned space program, is not a moon landing, which is quite simple, or even the manned Mars program which remains difficult, but continual exploration the earth-moon space with ever developing technology.”

He also put stress for maximum use of the experiences gained from the current manned spaceflights for more ambitious goals in future like manned Mars mission. But even if manned Mars mission will be impossible for next decades, space exploration with automatic spacecrafts is reality. It seems that China is preparing for changing priorities of their space program: from commercial launch vehicles to creating space infrastructure remaining constantly in space. Establishing power plants in space (just like gas stations) which could provide necessary fuel for spacecrafts would highly extend range of space exploration and reduce future costs. Of course it would also help in further space mining or any kind of deep space exploration – it probably would be necessary in case if no fully electric propulsion will not be invented. For sure such concept like establishing space gas station would bring undeniable profits whoever makes the first and Chinese are definitely have just made first step.

Sources:
http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2016-03/07/c_135164574.htm
http://baike.baidu.com/subview/1348083/10633436.htm