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DFH#11: China Spaceplane Activity, Lunar Samples loan and DBA static fire test

The Dongfang Hour
The Dongfang Hour
Your Weekly China Space Industry Summary, with a touch of eccentricity and some attempts at humor. By Blaine Curcio and Jean Deville, and with editing by Orbital Gateway Consulting Intern Aurélie Gillet

What's up in Chinese Space this Week?
In this week’s Newsletter Issue #11 covering 12 - 18 July 2021, we discuss the following:
  1. Additional Spaceplane Activity from China
  2. China Hands Out First Lunar Samples to Research Institutes
  3. Deep Blue Aerospace completes 10-second static fire test of the Nebula-M Engine
  4. Tencent Launches Space Program
  5. Hainan Province Publishes “14th Five-Year Plan for the Development of Hainan High-tech Industries”, with Strong Emphasis on Space
  6. China’s Martian Rover Zhurong travelled distance exceeded 450m on July 15
  7. World’s Largest Astronomy Museum Opened in Shanghai This Week
  8. Jiuzhou Yunjian completes a 500 second test of the company’s 10t Lingyun liquid methalox engine
  9. China’s Hypersonic Passenger Plane for 2035
  10. Governor of Hebei Province Xu Qin visits Commsat in Tangshan
  11. CNSA and CNES have a video conference
  12. “Three Hangs” (三航) high-level symposium held in Changsha
  13. Change of leadership for several CASIC subsidiaries
  14. Anhui Province Signs Strategic Cooperation Agreement with CASIC
  15. Huawei Cloud Strategic Cooperation Agreement with HKATG
1) Additional Spaceplane Activity from China
Chinese Illustration of a first stage spaceplane
Chinese Illustration of a first stage spaceplane
China successfully completed the launch and flight of a suborbital spaceplane on July 16th. Not much else is known, and the Chinese press release was very short, but observers seem to be hinting at a prototype for a vertical takeoff, horizontal landing (VTHL) first stage spaceplane, which could typically have a second stage attached to it.
This architecture seems to match with the step 1 on the spaceplane roadmap presented by Long Lehao, the chief engineer of the Long March rockets at CALT, at University of Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago. Step 1 seems to be a VTHL first stage, using traditional rocket engines, and carrying what looks to be a classical second stage. Step 2 would be spaceplane second stage (meaning that the second stage would be able to land horizontally), and step 3 would be a single-stage-to-orbit combined cycle engine spaceplane. This 3rd step would be an unprecedented technical achievement.
For more information on this specific topic, viewers can check out our weekly Space News Roundup video on YouTube:
China Launches a Suborbital Spaceplane, Tencent Begins Space Program, CE5 Lunar Samples Handed Out
我国亚轨道重复使用运载器飞行演示验证项目首飞取得圆满成功
2) China Hands Out First Lunar Samples to Research Institutes
The Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) held a ceremony on July 12 for the first distribution of lunar samples to research institutes. The lunar samples were part of the 1.731 kg collected by the Chang’e 5 mission at the end 2020, and returned to Earth in January 2021. 
For this first attribution of samples, a total 17.4764 g were lent to 31 applicants from 13 research institutes - with 17.4764 g representing only 1% of the total weight of the precious samples. Apparently this was out of a total of 85 applications, so barely 36.5% of them passed the acceptance review. Applications had to hold “important scientific significance”, and it was also evaluated if the “research plan was feasible and whether the applicant had relevant research capabilities”. The next round of loans will take place in September.
It is also amusing to note that the samples are given with a precision of a ten thousandth of a gram, showing just how precious these samples are. But then, if we consider as a thought exercise that the Chang’e 5 mission cost several billion RMB (say 4 billion), that means that each gram is worth over 2 million RMB (!!), which makes going down to the smaller digits much easier to comprehend.
关于发放第一批月球科研样品的公告
3) Deep Blue Aerospace completes 10-second static fire test of the Nebula-M Engine
Two weeks ago, we had predicted that Deep Blue Aerospace was very close to static fire tests (based on their social media posts). And indeed on 13 July, Deep Blue Aerospace (DBA) announced the completion of a first static fire test of the company’s Nebula-M prototype rocket.
The Nebula-M, as mentioned in DFH episode 40 and DFH newsletter #9, is a very small single stage rocket, whose sole purpose is to help DBA develop VTVL technology (since DBA liquid-fueled rocket the Nebula 2 plans to be reusable from day 1). 
According to DBA’s news release, the test lasted barely 10 seconds, and aimed at testing the coordination between the Leiting-5 kerolox engine and the other systems on-board. The data retrieved showed apparently that all systems were nominal (notably engines, hydraulic, electrical, telemetry and control systems). Coming up next should be a much longer, variable thrust, static fire test.
深蓝航天“回收复用”试验进展|“星云-M”液体回收1号试验箭完成首次静态点火
4) Tencent Launches Space Program
During 2021 World AI Conference in Shanghai on July 8th, Tencent, through its CEO Pony Ma Huateng, announced that it would launch a “Star Exploration Program” (探月计划) in collaboration with the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC), a branch of CAS and managing most (but not all) of China’s observatories. This includes a large number of optical and radio telescopes, such as the massive 500m aperture radio telescope in Guizhou called FAST, and the largest such telescope in the world.
Astronomy is one of the very data-intensive branches of space sciences, where AI, computer power, and Cloud computing make absolute sense. Imagine the dozens and dozens of professional telescopes, continuously pointing at different areas of the sky and collecting terabytes of data, and that all need specific processing. Tencent, as one of China’s leading tech firms, is clearly in a position to play a role here.
5) Hainan Province Publishes “14th Five-Year Plan for the Development of Hainan High-tech Industries”, with Strong Emphasis on Space
On July 7th, Hainan Province officially unveiled the “14th Five-Year Plan for the Development of Hainan High-tech Industries”, which shed light on China’s southernmost province’s strategy for the next five years. Of particular interest was the focus on the space industry, which was quoted to be one of Hainan’s “three future industries” (alongside smart agriculture and marine engineering).
In an interview to the Hainan Daily, head of the provincial department of industry and information technology (MIIT) Yin Libo mentions that the plan “promotes the development of rocket research and development, commercial satellite research, satellite navigation and other industries, and builds aerospace high-end product R&D and manufacturing bases and “aerospace +” industrial demonstration zones.” Overall, the plan aims to lead to a space sector in Hainan of more than RMB 10B by 2025.
For additional details, and comments on Hainan’s delicious coconut milk (海南椰树牌), check out this week’s podcast!
6) China’s Martian Rover Zhurong travelled distance exceeded 450m on July 15
On July 12, the Zhurong rover passed the parachute and the back cover of the entry capsule, located approximately 350m away from the landing site. Pictures taken by Zhurong were released on July 15 by the CNSA, along with a photo of the deployed parachute during the landing phase dating back to June 2, as well as a photo of the landing area taken by the Tianwen-1 probe on June 2. In the latter, we can see that the heat shield of the entry capsule is located approximately 1.6km away from the landing site. Zhurong still has some way to go to reach them!
The rover passed several milestones this week, including the 400+m and 450+m milestones of travelled distance on July 11 and July 15 respectively. July 15 also represented the 60th sol (Martian day) spent on the red planet.
“祝融号”近距离“看”降落伞与背罩
7) World’s Largest Astronomy Museum Opened in Shanghai This Week
On July 16, the world’s largest astronomy museum opened in Shanghai. The official opening ceremony was held on the 17th, and the museum opened to the public on Sunday 18th.
The 420,000 sq foot museum (no word if Elon Musk was involved in the planning) was designed without any straight lines or angles, giving it a very rounded look. We note that Shanghai is now home to the world’s largest Starbucks and the world’s largest astronomy museum, providing a great day trip for anyone looking to have a coffee, go check out some planetary stuff, and be able to say you’ve been to several of the world’s largest things! 
Shanghai Astronomy Museum: World's largest astronomy museum set to open in China - CNN Style
8) Jiuzhou Yunjian completes a 500 second test of the company’s 10t Lingyun liquid methalox engine
A few days ago, Jiuzhou Yunjian (JZYJ) successfully completed a 500s hot test of its 10t Lingyun liquid methalox engine in Bengbu, Anhui Province. So far, the Lingyun engine has completed dozens of starts and accumulated thousands of seconds of hot test; this test further confirms the performance and reliability of the engine.
“九”天新梦为何“箭”出蚌埠?|发动机|火箭|液氧|航天_网易订阅
9) China’s Hypersonic Passenger Plane for 2035
As reported by South China Morning Post, China is developing a hypersonic aircraft a third larger than a Boeing 737, with a pair of delta wings similar to those of the Concorde.
As briefly touched upon in DFH newsletter#9, according to academician Bao Weimin, China aims to have developed and successfully tested key hypersonic technology by 2025, to have reached 10-passenger capacity for Earth-to-Earth 1h transportation by 2035 and to have reached 100-passenger capacity by 2045. We will keep you updated on the juicy details!
China designs hypersonic jet bigger than Boeing 737 with wings like Concorde | South China Morning Post
10) Governor of Hebei Province Xu Qin visits Commsat in Tangshan
The Governor of Hebei Province, Xu Qin, visited Commsat’s Tangshan satellite factory this week. As the accompanying article notes, Tangshan is a historical center of heavy industry, and its proximity to the capital (~175km to the east) has proven to be a strategic advantage. 
The city is currently trying to upgrade its economy to higher-value manufacturing, with support from greater integration of the Jing-Jin-Ji economic region encompassing Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei Province. Under this development plan, places like Tangshan will likely benefit from cutting-edge companies in Beijing (and to some extent Tianjin) needing to manufacture things, not wanting to do so in big cities due to cost, but also wanting a manufacturing base in the vicinity of the big cities. In short, Commsat is likely not the last Beijing-focused space company to locate some operations in Tangshan.
河北省省长许勤莅临九天微星卫星工厂调研
11) CNSA and CNES have a video conference
On Monday 12 July, the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) and the French Space Agency (CNES) had a video conference. According to media source “Space of China”, the video conference included discussion on lunar and deep space exploration, as well as utilizing satellites and space infrastructure more generally to tackle issues such as climate change. 
Not a lot of additional information, but the meeting is the latest development in the space relations between China and France, which are quite a bit more friendly than, for example, China and the US, or even China and other EU countries.
张克俭视频会见法国国家空间研究中心主席巴蒂斯特
12) “Three Hangs” (三航) high-level symposium held in Changsha
On July 14, a high-level symposium was held in Changsha between the leaders of the aerospace (航天), aviation (航空) and sea navigation (航海) sectors, as well as with key universities to discuss future cooperation. Notice the term “航 (hang)” in the name of each sector: 航 (hang) means “to navigate”, whether through space (天), air (空) or on the sea (海). This explains the name 三航 (sanhang), difficult to translate into English!
The symposium was presided by Xu Dazhe, Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee and Director of the Standing Committee of the Provincial People’s Congress. Representatives of CASC, CASIC, AVIC, CSCC, AECC, CEC, and COMAC, as well as representatives from key universities such as the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (Beihang) and Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT), were present at the meeting.
A signing ceremony for projects linked to industrial development, technological research and platform construction in the Hunan province was also held. Exciting times ahead for Hunan!
“三航”高层座谈会在长沙召开
13) Change of leadership for several CASIC subsidiaries
On July 15, China Space News reported a change of leadership for two CASIC subsidiaries, Aerospace Jiangnan Group Co Ltd and Hunan Aerospace Co. Ltd. Zhang Zhe will replace Bao Bin as General Manager of Aerospace Jiangnan, and Jiao Jige will serve as Director and Chairman of Hunan Aerospace instead of Tang Yingwei. As always with CASIC, which is a state-owned enterprise involved in the design and manufacture of missile weapon systems and missile equipment, as well as launch vehicles and spacecrafts, very few details were provided.
中国航天科工航天江南主要领导调整
14) Anhui Province Signs Strategic Cooperation Agreement with CASIC
On July 6, the Anhui Provincial People’s Government and CASIC signed a strategic cooperation framework agreement - of which very little detail is provided. An article by Anhui Daily reveals that the agreement aims at strengthening cooperation in planning major national scientific and technological projects, building scientific and technological innovation platforms and accelerating the development of strategic emerging industries.
安徽省人民政府与中国航天科工集团有限公司签署战略合作框架协议
15) Huawei Cloud Strategic Cooperation Agreement with Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group
Huawei Cloud and Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group (HKATG) have signed a cooperation agreement to jointly build a remote sensing big data and artificial intelligence (AI) service platform in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA).
HKATG is a Hong Kong-based satellite manufacturer building the Golden Bauhinia Constellation. According to the article, it had already signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Huawei in April this year. The GBA project, launched in 2017, seems to be (slowly) gaining momentum!
华为云与香港航天达成战略合作,共同搭建粤港澳大湾区遥感数据服务 - 产业 - 泰伯网 | 科技赋能新经济
This has been another episode of the Dongfang Hour China Space News Roundup. If you’ve made it this far, we thank you for your kind attention, and look forward to seeing you next time! Until then, don’t forget to follow us on YouTube, Twitter, or LinkedIn, or your local podcast source.
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