THE CHINESE SPACE RACE

A geo-political analysis

by Jacopo D. Cordero

At the dawn of the XXI century the social and political bonds that shaped the world in the last century are moving, creating new dysequilibriums, relocating the political alignments, opening some frontiers and closing other ones. 

The last hundred years saw the American uncontested predominance. Nowadays perhaps US came to their political, military and economic apex. In the short term we cannot doubt, if history well taught, that the great North-American colossus will bear a fall.

As and when nobody can say, but two competitors are already waiting to redefine their roles in the international scenery. While the European Union expands itself and bureaucratically forges its own identity in a slow motion, trying not to upset the over Atlantic neighbour, China is emerging quickly, claiming a space and taking its own destiny in its hands. Such aspect clearly emerges in the space exploration domain, more than in any other sector.

For decades the most populous nation of the world lived in an auto-imposed isolation, but now it came up to challenge the world as an economic power, not neglecting the cultural, and inevitably military, sides. As the Cold War accelerated the run to space, bringing men on the moon, so' now the space competition contest is rushed by the desire to get – and to preserve – the military  advantage on what is defined the "higher ground." But not only.

The Chinese space run begun late but in less than two five-year periods it made and it will complete some giant footsteps. These the principal milestones:

October 15th 2003 - Yang Liwei, first Chinese astronaut, brings Shenzhou 5 in orbit.

October 12th 2005 - around 21.00 Beijings Time, China sends two taikonauts in space, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the North-West of the Slope to complete "orbital maintenance operations".

While the two astronauts were still in orbit, on Earth they were already planning the next two launchs.

Han Hongyin, of the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, is the engineer who designed the propulsion system. He affirms that, before putting a space station in orbit, China will make some targeted experiments, as in the next Shenzhou 7 mission, in 2007. Two astronauts will perform a space walk. Shenzhou 8, instead, will make an experiment of hookup with a space target to be defined.

Zhang Bainan, head designer of the Chinese aerospace system, affirms that the vehicle of the Shenzhou 8 mission will be the final one, for all the future missions. If changes will occur, to face specific requirements of each mission, they won't notch the form, the control systems and the data communication protocols.

The crème of the Chinese engineering of all disciplines is employed in the aerospace sector: a recently publicated news states that the most powerful Chinese computer, Dawning4000A, located in Shanghai, will be employed for aerospace purposes. It will be used to simulate the first docking module, a fundamental wedge for the future space station to build.

Li Genguo, a manager of the Shanghai Supercomputer Center, states that Dawning4000A can perform calculations to test airplanes in very short time: if before such work took months, now it’s matter of hours. But the operations to simulate a space docking are decidedly more numerous and complicated in comparison to the ones of an airplan, despite Dawning4000A can complete 11 trillion calculations per second. A normal computer, as the commonly used desktops, would take one month to complete even only the simplest operation.

Some articles on the Chinese Astronautics topics 

The X Prize and Mercantile Astronautics - M. Martin-Smith

The Chinese first manned space mission

China in Space - M. Martin-Smith

Shenzhou 5: First Report from Orbit - S. Coniglio

The Yang Liwei's flight on Shenzhou 5 - A. Autino

China Puts Man In Orbit Joining Elite Space Club - Larry Kellogg

Space Age debate: Chinese in space? - Stephen Ashworth

A people's Space Programme - M. Martin-Smith

Mars and the Moon - A. Autino

 

 [002.JC.TDF.2006 - 08.01.2006]