The space power that rises in the East – China’s five year plan

by Chris Bergin

The Chinese State Council has announced their 11th five-year plan for space exploration, a plan that aims to give priority to manned spaceflight, lunar exploration, a new launch vehicle and high-resolution Earth observation.

Other aspects of the five-year plan are focused on the promotion of industrialization of space technologies, and the encouragement of non-governmental investment in the space sector.



The announcement, made by Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan, stressed the importance of utilizing 2007 for the advancement of Chinese space development.

The Vice Premier’s comments come after the launch of what appears to be the first operational satellite of the Compass navigation system, and the launch of NigComSat-1 – the first communications satellite from Nigeria – which signals the return of the Chinese launchers to the world launch market.

The NigComSat-1 marks the first satellite export sale for China’s state-owned Great Wall Industry Corp. Other agreements were made with Venezuela for the launch of the Simon Bolivar Satellite in July 2008.

This is an important part of the new five year plan that will see China promoting ‘the industrialization of space technologies and attach great importance to the development of telecommunication, navigation and remote sensing satellites,’ according Vice Premier Zeng, as quoted by the Xinhua news agency.

‘Space technologies should support and push China’s economy and provide stable, continuous and high-quality services for telecommunication, weather forecasting and maritime investigation, among others.’

Next year, Chinese yuangyuans are going to return to space aboard Shenzhou-7. This three person mission will see the first spacewalk by Chinese astronauts and should mark a new phase in Chinese manned spaceflight.

Also, after Shenzhou-7, it is expected that the docking between to Shenzhou spacecrafts – or between a Shenzhou and a Shenzhou orbital module – will occur.

The Chinese plans for lunar exploration will advance with the launch of Chang’e-1 in September, via a CZ-3A rocket. This should be the first of a series of lunar missions.

Cheng’e-1 will orbit the Moon for a full year to test the technology future missions and to study the lunar environment and it’s surface.

China is also planning a lunar rover, to be launched 2012. The Chinese lunar plans are effectively divided in three stages: 2007 – orbiting the Moon; 2012 – unmanned vehicle on the lunar surface; and 2017 – unmanned lunar landing with collection of soil samples.

For years the Chinese have been talking of a space station – however, for that they’ll need a new launch vehicle. This new launch vehicle is now one of the priorities of the new five-year plan.

The CZ-5 Chang Zheng-5 launch vehicle family will be able to loft large payloads to low Earth orbit and to geosynchronous orbit. Original plans for the first launch claimed this would take place in 2008. It now appears that the project will see its first launch in 2012.

Meanwhile, China has been using its space assets to modernize is agriculture with better planning, via high-resolution Earth observation platforms in orbit.

Space is now a common element in Chinese every day life. The use and development of telecommunication, navigation and remote sensing satellites, plays an important role in modern China.

To the West, the space power that rises in the East can sometimes be a source of threat to its security. Many saw on the recent anti-satellite test a sign of a threat that silently rises.

Despite being a secretive State, the Chinese have made it no secret that they intend to take the leadership role in the 21st century space exploration drive – and this is something that the old space powers can’t neglect.

Images of Chinese posters used with permission from the IISH Stefan R. Landsberger Collection – click link for more posters.

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