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China Space News Update - Issue #8

Andrew Jones
Andrew Jones
Updates, context and reports on China’s expanding space activities, with the latest civil, commercial, policy, defence & exploration news.
Here’s the roundup for 20-26 September 2021.

This week: Tianzhou-3 docks with Tianhe, commerical and exploration roundup
Liftoff of the fourth Long March 7 on September 20, sending Tianzhou-3 into orbit. Credit: CMSA
Liftoff of the fourth Long March 7 on September 20, sending Tianzhou-3 into orbit. Credit: CMSA
Tianzhou-3 launches, docks with Tianhe
China launched the fourth mission for its space station project at 0710 UTC Monday, September 20, successfully sending the Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft into orbit. The mission paves the way for crewed Shenzhou-13 mission in October.
Main points:
  • Completed a automated rapid rendezvous and docking just under seven hours later (1508 UTC)
  • Docking was facilitated by a mix of radar, lidar and optical sensors and BeiDou navigation satellites to determine relative positions.
  • Tianzhou-3 carries almost six tonnes of supplies, mostly astronaut provisions
  • Other cargo include a backup EVA suit, supplies for EVAs, space station platform materials, payloads and just 750 kg of propellant (4 tanks instead of 8) to reserve more mass for supplies. There’s also a plush ox on board.
  • Packages are now colour-coded along with QR codes, as the all-beige scheme for TZ-2 was troublesome for the crew.
  • The three-crew, six-month-long Shenzhou-13 mission will launch from Jiuquan in October and stay until March 2022
  • China first tested rendezvous and docking with Tiangong-1 and the uncrewed Shenzhou-8 back in November 2011 as a stepping stone towards space station construction.
Related: Elon Musk tweeted tersely about NASA cooperation with China. He’s probably right, though many will argue about the extent, on what terms and so on. This of course set off discussion and likely numerous articles on the topic as China builds its space station. More: Futurism
Elon Musk
@TheMarsSociety @NASA Some amount of cooperation would be good
Commercial roundup
CNSA deputy director Wu Yanhua turned up at the 2021 Wenchang International Aerospace Forum and pledged support for development of Hainan’s aerospace industry and space economy. Hainan will also host the 2022 China Space Day next April. (Science and Technology Daily)
Interview with Gao Enyu (高恩宇), CEO of satellite developer and manufacturer MinoSpace, discussing the development, prospects and challenges for the Chinese commercial sector. (MinoSpace)
Smart Satellite signs deal with CASIC (Haiyang) on synthetic aperture radar satellites (Smart Satellite)
Launch firm Space Pioneer secures a seventh round of funding, and is aiming for a first orbit launch in early 2022. It could be China’s first private medium-sized liquid rocket launch, with Landspace’s Zhuque-2 the other challenger. (天兵科技)
Policy notes
Li Keqiang presided over an executive meeting of the State Council Sept. 22, in which he underlined that space infrastructure will remain a priority: “Space-based information infrastructure will be improved for satellite communications, navigation, remote sensing and other purposes.” Additionally, a “ubiquitous and collaborative Internet of Things” will be developed. More on this last point in the future, as it’s a big deal. (China News Service)
Wu Yansheng, chairman of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), the country’s main space contractor: “fulfill the sacred mission of developing the country and strengthening the military”. Wu made comments at a study meeting relating to the implementation of the 14th Five-year Plan involving CASC leadership. Wu made requisite statements on adhering to the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. (CASC)
Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology establishes a financial sharing center (SAST)
Exploration, human spaceflight updates
Shenzhou-13: The backup crew for Shenzhou-12–Zhai Zhigang (翟志刚), Wang Yaping (王亚平) and Ye Guangfu (叶光富)–could well be the crew for Shenzhou-13. Zhai flew on Shenzhou 7, Wang became China’s second woman astro in space on Shenzhou-10 in 2013, and Ye has yet to fly. He participated in ESA’s CAVES analogue exploration training including alongside NASA astronauts in June 2016. Wang Yaping would become the first woman aboard the Chinese space station. (
China’s Manned Space Missions: A documentary from Chinese state media CGTN looks at the history of Chinese human spaceflight, including footage from the Shuguang-1 (“Dawn-1”) project which aimed to put two astronauts in space in the 1970s, but could not be completed due to a “social turbulent era,” aka the Cultural Revolution. Efforts resumed on September 21, 1992, with the establishment of the 921 Project which set out a three-step path of putting an astronaut in space, testing EVAs and life support, and establishing the space station we see being constructed in orbit today. Includes lots of footage, interviews, statistics and overviews of launch capabilities. (CGTN)
The Quest for Space: China's Manned Space Missions | CGTN Documentary
The Quest for Space: China's Manned Space Missions | CGTN Documentary
The Advanced Space-based Solar Observatory (ASO-S) to prototype development stage (but is on course for launch in 2022) (NSSC)
This is where Zhurong could be heading if it continues south (which is expected). Zhurong and Tianwen-1 will be in safe mode until around the end of October due to inference from the Sun preventing comms with Mars due to a once-every-26-month solar junction. (HiRise)
Credit: NASA/JPL/UArizona
Credit: NASA/JPL/UArizona
Introducing the electric propulsion system used for Tianhe from the 801 Institute (Shanghai Institute of Space Propulsion) under CASC’s Academy of Aerospace Propulsion Technology (AAPT)
Ion thrusters firing aboard Tianhe. Credit: AAPT/CASC
Ion thrusters firing aboard Tianhe. Credit: AAPT/CASC
Articles and short updates
‘China is planning a controversial space project in Europe’ (Süddeutsche Zeitung) – the article delves into the activities of KLEO Connect, which aims to build a communications constellation, through its registration in Liechtenstein.
‘Taiwan must secure a strategic position in space industry’s supply chain’: president (SpaceNews)
A Hydrogen liquefaction system has been developed by CASC subsidiary Academy of Aerospace Liquid Propulsion Technology, capable of producing 1.7 tonnes per day (AALPT/CASC)
NASA Wants to Work With China in Space (Newsweek)
From carbon dioxide to starch: no plants required (Science)
A Tour of China’s Future Tiangong Space Station (NYT)
China unveils gravitational-wave research centre in Zhuhai (Xinhua)
China Aims for a Permanent Moon Base in the 2030s (IEEE Spectrum)
Advancements in transport technology that are launching China to the top of the space race (citing Dr. Xiaojun Wang, President of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology) (SpaceRef)
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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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