Monday, March 12, 2007

China's new space program unveiled

The government has unveiled an ambitious blueprint for developing space science that includes the launch of the country's first astronomy satellite and more extensive international cooperation.

The astronomical satellite will carry a "hard X-ray modulation telescope," which is being developed by Chinese scientists for launch in 2010, according to the Space Science Development Plan.

The plan was released by the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense for the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10) over the weekend.

The project will help Chinese scientists make breakthroughs in research of black hole physics and other fields, as hard X-rays originate mostly from regions close to black holes, experts said.

The telescope would be preceded by Shijian-10, a recoverable satellite to be sent in 2009 for scientific experiments, according to the plan.

The document singles out three international cooperative projects to be implemented in the current Five-Year Plan period.

They include a joint unmanned mission to Mars with Russia, which will not only bring samples back to Earth but also land on one of the red planet's tiny moons, Ye Peijian, a leading scientist at the Chinese Research Institute of Space Technology, said last August.

China and Russia will also work on the World Satellite Observatory of Ultra-Violet.

Another international cooperation project is the Small Explorer for Solar Eruptions (SMESE), a Chinese-French mission to observe solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections for the next Solar Maximum in about 2011.

The plan does not specify a timetable for the three projects.

It says China will focus on innovation and sustainability of space science development to better serve the national economy and security, and help build China into an "innovative country".

The government will set up a system to ensure scientific projects are chosen in an "open and fair" fashion, and "multiple sources" are encouraged to fund such projects, it says.

The release of the development blueprint coincides with the ongoing sessions of the country's top legislature and political advisory body in Beijing.

Last week, Huang Chunping and Qi Faren, both members of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said the country would launch a moon orbiter "some time" this year and stage a space walk in 2008.

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