A Chinese future in space
China's space programme has experienced remarkable advancements over the years, establishing itself as a key player in the global space arena.
A Chinese future in space
New Age – New Road

A Chinese future in space

The combination of the Shenzhou-17 crewed spaceship and a Long March-2F carrier rocket (Photo: AFP/Wang Jianbo)
Eurasia 24/01/2024 12:12

China's space programme has experienced remarkable advancements over the years, establishing itself as a key player in the global space arena.

  • SHENZHOU China's space journey began in the 1950s, but it gained momentum in the 1990s with the establishment of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) in 1993. The Shenzhou programme marked a crucial phase, with the launch of Shenzhou 5 in 2003 carrying China's first astronaut, Yang Liwei, making the nation the third to independently send humans into space.
  • The Shenzhou 16 crew consisting of three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth safely on 31 October 2023. This mission has laid a good foundation for the subsequent development and construction of the crewed spaceflight programme and large-scale space science experiments. A few days earlier, three Chinese astronauts lifted off on the Shenzhou-17 spacecraft from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center deep in the Gobi Desert, heading for the Tiangong space station for a six-month stay. They are the youngest crew China has ever sent to space – with an average age of 38. On 21 December, they embarked on their first extravehicular activity (space walk) to address minor damage to a Tiangong space station solar array.
  • CHANG’E China's lunar exploration programme, Chang'e, has been a standout success. The Chang'e-1 mission in 2007 marked China's first lunar orbiter, followed by Chang'e-2 in 2010, which conducted high-resolution mapping. The Chang'e-3 mission in 2013 achieved the historic feat of landing a rover, Yutu, on the moon's surface. Subsequent missions, including Chang'e-4 in 2019 and Chang'e-5 in 2020, furthered lunar exploration, including the first-ever successful sample return mission.
Image taken by a camera released from China's Zhurong Mars rover showing the rover and the landing
platform on the surface of Mars (Photo: AFP/CNSA/Jin Liwang)
  • TIANWEN China entered the Martian exploration domain with the Tianwen-1 mission, launched in 2020. Combining an orbiter, lander, and rover, Tianwen-1 aimed to study the Martian surface, atmosphere, and search for signs of past life. The successful landing of the Zhurong rover in May 2021 marked China as the second country to achieve a Mars surface mission, demonstrating its technological prowess in interplanetary exploration.
  • TIANGONG China's Tiangong programme focuses on constructing and operating a modular space station. The Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 space labs served as crucial precursors. In 2021, China launched the core module, Tianhe, initiating the assembly of the Tiangong space station. The completed station is expected to facilitate long-term human presence in space, scientific experiments, and international collaboration.
  • LONG MARCH China's Long March rocket series cater to various payload requirements, showcasing China's robust launch vehicle technology. In July 2023, the Long March series carrier rockets have set a new record of 150 consecutive successful launches.
India reaches the moon

India has achieved a historic milestone by successfully landing a spacecraft near the moon's south pole. This groundbreaking achievement underscores the country's growing prominence as a space power, marking a significant step as it embarks on more ambitious missions and welcomes private investment into its space programs. In August 2023, the landing module of the Indian Space Research Organisation's Chandrayaan-3 mission touched down on the lunar surface, captivating millions in the world's most populous nation who witnessed the event live.

Russia to build its own space station

The Russian Orbital Station (ROS) as a key element of the country’s future sovereign infrastructure for human space flights is scheduled for its deployment in 2027, Roscosmos Chief Yury Borisov said last January. Russia announced its planned departure from the International Space Station (ISS) in 2022. Roscosmos and China National Space Administration (CNSA) inked a deal in November 2022 stipulating bilateral space cooperation in 2023-2027. According to Borisov, ROS may receive its own name, like its predecessors Salyut, Almaz and Mir, and there is a possibility of holding a public debate to choose it. Russia’s first moon probe since Luna-24 in 1976, Luna-25 crashed into the moon in August last year, but according to Roscosmos, Russia is set to restart its lunar exploration programme, and this failure won't change that vision.

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