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China Space News Update #17: First half of 2022 review

Andrew Jones
Andrew Jones
After a fairly hefty hiatus: A quick review of Chinese space activities in H1 2022

An image from a small sub satellite released by Tianwen 1 while in Mars orbit. Credit: CNSA/PEC
An image from a small sub satellite released by Tianwen 1 while in Mars orbit. Credit: CNSA/PEC
2022 half year review of Chinese space activities
Tianwen-1 surprises, primary mission complete
The year started with a surprise from Mars orbit, as it turns out Tianwen-1 was harbouring yet another imaging trick up its sleeve. It released a small subsatellite which returned some great images of Tianwen-1 above Mars. It also returned video footage thanks to a deep space selfie arm for the lunar New Year.
Since then, the orbiter for China’s first (independent) interplanetary mission has marked a full (Earth) year in orbit and completed a global imaging campaign to map the Red Planet with its MoRIC medium-resolution imager. 
Meanwhile on the surface, the Zhurong rover in May entered hibernation due to the low solar energy levels associated with winter in the northern hemisphere. Zhurong reached a total of 1,921 metres drive distance since its landing in Utopia Planitia in May 2021. It is expected to wake itself up in Spring, likely around December. 
Both Tianwen and Zhurong rover have completed their primary missions. Science results are starting to come in from the pair, with data from Zhurong suggesting that water may have been on Mars much more recently than scientists thought.
Human spaceflight
The Shenzhou 13 crew completed the country’s first six-month-long mission in April, paving the way for repeated long-term human spaceflight missions to the under-construction Tiangong space station.
Shenzhou-14 crew have arrived at Tiangong and already spent a month aboard, while Shenzhou 15 stands ready for a potential space station rescue mission. Shenzhou 14 and 15 are expected to complete the first crew handover in December.
Next up, the space station’s second module, Wentian, is expected to launch around July 23.
Launchers and launch rates
A very busy six months for launcher-related developments, even if China lags behind SpaceX alone in terms of launches conducted. CASC has performed 20 launches (plans more than 50 across 2022), including the debut of the Long March 6A, a first Chinese liquid-solid combo launcher. Beyond CASC, iSpace failed with a third consecutive Hyperbola-1 solid rocket launch, and Expace successfully returned the Kuaizhou-1A solid rocket to flight. Launch list at the bottom.
Beyond this, there have been a number of big funding rounds for Chinese commercial launch companies, including Galactic Energy ($200m), Expace ($237m), Deep Blue Aerospace (January: $31.5m, April: undisclosed), Orienspace (January: $47m, May: 59.9m), engine maker Jiuzhou Yunjian ($15.7m), Space Pioneer (strategic funding), RocketPi (undisc.) and Space Trek.
In February new concepts for launchers were revealed by a senior official from the CASC’s China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, including a small version of Starship running on gas generator methalox engines.
Expect new launchers including Zhuque-2, ZK-1A and Jielong-3 to launch in the coming months. Hop tests from companies including Deep Blue Aerospace and iSpace are also possible.
Work is also now underway on a new commercial launch complex at the coastal Wenchang launch center. Another commercial launch center could be built at Ningbo.
Andrew Jones
Deep Blue Aerospace yesterday conducted a one kilometre level launch and landing VTVL test with its Nebula-M test article, as part of development of the Nebula-1 reusable orbital launcher.
New Space White Paper
The Fifth China Space White Paper (CNSA, CASI translation) was released in late January, outlining progress during the previous five years and plans for the following five (2021-2025). 
The document states China will seek to develop its space transportation capabilities (launching a new-generation crew launch vehicle within five years), test new technologies, embark on exploration missions, modernize space governance, enhance innovation and boost international cooperation (more: SpaceNews).
China will also “continue studies and research on the plan for a human lunar landing… and research key technologies to lay a foundation for exploring and developing cislunar space,” the paper states. China is understood to be working on many of the elements needed to land astronauts on the moon, possibly around the end of the decade.
There are also notable mentions of space debris (space debris monitoring system, cataloging database and early warning services, conduct in-orbit maintenance of spacecraft), space tourism (inc. to Tiangong) and commercial space which would require a closer reading.
Future science and exploration
Lots of new details have become available regarding China’s exploration plans. This includes info on Tianwen 2 (near-Earth asteroid sample return and comet rendezvous mission) Tianwen 3 (Mars sample return), 13 candidate missions (Venus, exoplanet telescopes, solar observations, lunar orbit astronomy and more) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ “New Horizons Program” which will add to missions already expected to launch during the 14th Five-year Plan period, such as the Einstein Probe.
There’s also a pre-research proposal for a nuclear-powered (fission) Neptune orbiter, which adds weight to the idea that China is keen on nuclear powered space capabilities.
Elsewhere, already operational along with Tianwen 1, Chang’e 5 orbiter is testing a unique lunar orbit, while Yutu 2 and Chang’e 4 lander continue their work on the far side of the Moon.
Andrew Jones
Far side of the Moon: Yutu-2 and Chang'e-4 lander powered down at 1114 & 2200 UTC July 5 respectively, ending lunar day 44. Yutu-2 total drive distance now 1239.88 metres. New drive map available [CLEP]
Planetary defense 
China is making its first moves in the realm of planetary defence. It is planning an asteroid deflection test around 2025 but also an entire system including detecting and tracking potentially threatening asteroids. Details are currently few and far between, but will emerge bit by bit.  
Diplomacy, geopolitics and megaconstellations
China has watched developments in Ukrainie closely and expressed, at least to domestic audiences, concerns over the use of US space capabilities and intentions. Notably, a researcher has said China’s military must be able to destroy Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites (SCMP). 
Furthermore, the official newspaper of China’s military forces published a commentary in April noting that companies such as Maxar and Black Sky provided satellite imagery of Russian troop movements to Ukraine. 
The People’s Liberation Army Daily piece claims the U.S. has in recent years been “promoting the construction of so-called ‘space resilience’, attempting to blur the boundary between military and civilian spheres,” bringing commercial entities and the general public into the space arms race in order to strengthen its dominant position in space. 
Meanwhile, Chinese commercial remote sensing firms are launching satellites and raising funds. China SatNet, a state-owned entity established to oversee a national communications megaconstellation, established a satellite cluster in Chongqing and signed deals in Shanghai earlier this year. A batch of Galaxy Space satellites launched in March could also be related to the project.
Another notable spat occurred when NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, in comments to German publication Bild in early July, expressed concerns that China would try to claim the Moon. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian accused Nelson of lying “through his teeth.” Two scholars wrote in The Conversation why China is unlikely to claim the Moon.
Other news and developments
Nation’s space program sees new age of achievement (China Daily)
US-China Technology Cold War Battle Over Optical Communication in Space (CircleID)
The Re-emergence of an ‘Aerospace Clique’ in Chinese Politics? (The Diplomat)
2024 Space Force budget to show ‘large pivot’ to ‘China fight’ (Breaking Defense)
Strategic Implications of China-Russia Lunar Base Cooperation Agreement (The Diplomat)
Space Blocs: The future of international cooperation (The Conversation)
There is Still Room for Cooperation in Space  (ChinaUSfocus)
The military race for low Earth orbit satellites – and why China is behind (SCMP)
China, US are racing to make billions from mining the moon’s minerals (Bloomberg)
Key China Excerpts from Big DIA Report: “Challenges to Security in Space: Space Reliance in an Era of Competition & Expansion” (Andrew Erickson)
Chinese netizens amazed at possible existence of life outside Earth (Global Times)
Meeting China’s Space Challenge (Heritage)
Launch list:
1 - 0235  01.17 - Shiyan-13 | CZ2D Y70 | TSLC (CASC, SAST)
2 - 2344  01.25 - L-SAR 01A | CZ4C Y29 | JSLC (CASC, SAST, CSN)
3 - 2344  02.27 - L-SAR 01B | CZ4C Y30 | JSLC (CASC, SAST)
4 - 0306  02.27 - 22 sats | CZ8 Y2 | WSLC (CASC, CGST, Spacety, MinoSpace)
5 - 0601  03.05 - GS-02 x 6 | CZ2C | XSLC (GalaxySpace, CASC, CSN, SpaceWish, COSATS)
6 - 0309  13.17 - YG-34 (02) | CZ4C | JSLC (CASC, SAST)
7 - 0950  29.03 - Pujiang-2, TK-2 | CZ6A | TSLC (CASC, SAST, CASIC 2, SpaceNews
8 - 0229  30.03 - Tianping-2A, B, C | CZ11 | JSLC (CASC, CR, CALT)
9 - 0747  06.04 - Gaofen-3 (03) | CZ4C | JSLC | CASC, SAST, CAST
10 - 1200 15.04 - ChinaSat-6D | CZ3B | XSLC | CASC
11 - 15.04 - Daqi-1 | CZ4C | TSLC | CASC, 2, CSN, CHEOS
12 - 0411 29.04 - Siwei-01/02 | CZ2C | JSLC | CASC, CSN, OS, CCTV, SpaceNews
13 - 0330 30.04 - Jilin-1 x5 | CZ11H | Sea | CASC
14 - 0238  05.05 - Jilin-1 Kuanfu 01C, 7 x Gaofen 03D | CZ2D | TSLC | (CASC, GW, CGST)
15 - 1756  09.05 -  Tianzhou-4 | CZ7 Y5 | WSLC | (CASC, SAST)
16 - 0709  13.05 - Failure: Jilin-1 | Hyperbola-1 Y4 | JSLC | (XNA, SpaceNews)
17 - 1030  20.05 - 3 LEO comms sat | CZ2C/YZ-1S | JSLC | CASC, Jilin)
18 - 0400  02.06 - GeeSAT-5 (01-09) | CZ2C | XSLC | CASC, CSN, Geely)
19 - 0244  05.06 - Shenzhou-14 | CZ2F | JSLC | CASC, CMSA, CSN, SAST
20 - 0208  22.06 - Tianxing-1 | KZ-1A | JSLC (Expace, CASIC, CSN, payload: CAS)
21 - 0222  23.06 - Yaogan-35 (02) | CZ2D | XSLC (CSN, SAST, XSLC)
22 - 1546  27.06 - Gaofen-12 (03) | CZ4C | JSLC (CASC, SAST, footage+render)
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Andrew Jones
Andrew Jones @AJ_FI

A weekly roundup of developments in the nebulous but energetic Chinese space sector. Created by freelance space reporter and correspondent Andrew Jones.

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