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DFHour #34--The Year in Review, Crypto Millionaires and Blue Origin, and Supersonic Planes

The Dongfang Hour
The Dongfang Hour
Your Weekly China Space Industry Summary, by Blaine Curcio and Jean Deville, and with editing by Orbital Gateway Consulting Analyst Aurélie Gillet.

What's up in Chinese Space this Week?
Welcome to the Dongfang Hour China Space Newsletter for 20-26 Dec 2021. As the year is drawing to an end, we take a step back and reflect on the trends that shaped the Chinese space sector in 2021. For a deeper analysis of such trends, check out our latest DFH episode, to be released during the week.
Highlight of the Week: Four trends that shaped the Chinese aerospace sector in 2021
First, 2021 is the year when the Chinese national space exploration program truly picked up momentum, with the commencement of construction of the Chinese Space Station, China’s Mars mission and the announcement of the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) project co-led with Russia. After decades of efforts, China’s crewed spaceflight program culminated this year with the construction of the CSS - the core module, Tianhe-1, having been launched in April 2021.
View of interior of Chinese Space Station. Source: China News Service
View of interior of Chinese Space Station. Source: China News Service
The CSS has already hosted two distinct crews; the Shenzhou-12 crew for 3 months, and the current Shenzhou-13 crew for a total of 6 months to be reached next year. 2021 also saw the success of China’s Mars mission, with the country becoming the 2nd to ever land a rover on Mars. The Zhurong rover landed in May 2021 and has driven 1253m by November 8 2021. Lastly, the ILRS project, composed of three phases - Reconnaissance, Construction and Utilization -, has now become a competitor to the US-led Artemis Project.
Secondly, the past 12 months have seen cutting-edge space technologies become mainstream in China - including SAR technology and spaceplanes. Several SAR constellations were announced, including the 96-satellite Tianxian constellation, to be developed by Spacety and the CETC38, a 4-satellite SAR constellation announced by EO data analytics company PIESat, as well as a Silk Road SAR constellation announced, to be developed by Smart Satellite and Tongchuan City, Shaanxi Province.
Major achievements have been made in terms of spaceplanes, with Space Transportation (凌空天行) having completed around 5 flights of its Tianxing-1 suborbital spaceplane and 1 of its Tianxing-2 in 2021, while other Chinese commercial companies also show interest in developing similar space tourism technology.
Third, although the year was not as spectacular as expected in the commercial launch sector, strong foundations have been laid out for a spectacular year of 2022. Despite the burgeoning Chinese national space program, the commercial sector has been relatively disappointing: although major milestones have been reached, such as the 100m hops of Deep Blue Aerospace, or the comeback of presumed dead companies such as OneSpace and Linkspace, a significant number of planned maiden launches did not take place. That being said, the latter should happen in 2022. Next year hence appears very promising!
Lastly, 2021 was a significant year in terms of international relations in the space sector, as China allied with Russia for the ILRS project and is seeking to foster international cooperation around both the ILRS and the CSS. China has a track-record of essentially national programs as far as space exploration is concerned; 2021 may hence constitute a turning point in that regard. This year has also seen increased tensions between the US and China, as competition between the two countries intensifies - putting third countries in a rather uncomfortable position when it comes to space cooperation.
The Week in Launch
 Hot-fire test runs of a 25t expander cycle hydrolox upperstage engine conducted by CASC
Hot-fire test runs of a 25t expander cycle hydrolox upperstage engine conducted by CASC
This week, launch-related news can be divided into two categories: tests of launch technology (engines), and launches of satellites and spaceplanes.
First, two hot-fire test runs of a 25t expander cycle hydrolox upperstage engine were conducted on December 10 and 17 by CASC’s 6th Academy (also known as the Aerospace Academy of Liquid Propulsion Technology). Both test runs aimed at testing thermal conditions, at both 60% and 100% of the combustion chamber design points. According to the WeChat post by China Space News, tests of the turbopumps and engine igniters had previously been completed. While the engines were unnamed, they were likely the YF-79 hydrolox engines that CASC is developing for China’s lunar and Mars rocket, the superheavy Long March 9. While the lower stages of the Long March 9 will use kerolox engines, upper stages will use a number of hydrolox engines. Some of the previous Long March 9 proposals included a 4x25t thrust hydrolox third stage. 
Another test, that of a rotating detonation engine, was successfully conducted by TWR, China’s first private enterprise specializing in the development of detonation engines, founded in 2019. The test laid the foundation for the subsequent development of liquid rocket engines using detonation propulsion technology. TWR plans to conduct engine flight tests in 2022 and to release a final product within the next three years.
Secondly, this week saw several launches, including the launch of a pair of Shiyan 12 (01 and 02) satellites on a Long March 7A from the Wenchang Space Launch Site on December 23. If the mission of both satellites is the performance of “space environment and related technology verification tests“, the objective of both satellites remains unclear. The launch of the pair of Shiyan 12 satellites into GEO represents the 3rd launch of the Long March 7A, and 2nd successful one. The Long March 7A seems to constitute the new-generation GEO workhorse, and will progressively replace the Long March 3B.
Another satellite, the Ziyuan-1 02E optical satellite, was launched on a Long March 4C from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on December 26. The Zuyuan-1 02 optical satellite is a 5m resolution, optical satellite developed by the 5th Academy of CASC. It will be used for land surveying and monitoring, in the fields of environmental protection, disaster reduction and agriculture - among others -, and complements the Ziyuan-1-02D launched in 2019.
Lastly, Space Transportation reported, in a very succinct announcement, that it had successfully launched two additional Tianxing spacecrafts, representing the 7th and 8th launches of the Tianxing series.
The Week in China’s Space Program
This week, the Shenzhou-13 crew, currently aboard the CSS, successfully performed its 2nd Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) - the fourth on the CSS. Ye Guangfu and Zhai Zhigang both exited the capsule for a 6h spacewalk, while Wang Yaping assisted her colleagues from inside. The objective of this EVA was to deploy an external camera, the “panoramic camera C”, to install a foot restraint platform, and to test the station’s robotic arm - among others.
On December 25, a small part (10g) of the Chang’e 5 lunar samples was moved to Hunan University for storage and safekeeping. The lunar sample backup storage facility, based in Shaoshan passed technical verification tests in July 2021, and is the only such infrastructure in China. Lunar samples are stored in a backup storage device filled with nitrogen, with an internal pressure slightly higher than atmospheric pressure, to replicate conditions on the Moon.
December 24 saw the release of a 3-part documentary on China’s lunar exploration missions, co-produced by the CNSA and CCTV. The documentary, composed of three 50 minutes-episodes, was produced over 4 years and recounts China’s lunar exploration program over the past 17 years - including through interviews of key figures. Definitely worth watching for those interested in learning more about the Chinese lunar program!
The Week in Satellite Applications
On December 20, China released the 1st batch of 11 images taken by the SDGSAT-1 satellite - the first satellite specially designed to help meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and is equipped with thermal infrared, low light level and multispectral cameras. Launched on November 5, 2021, it will be used for climate change monitoring, disaster reduction, and other purposes directed towards achieving the UN SDGs. Among the 11 remote sensing pictures retrieved are images of Beijing, the Yangtze River Delta, Lake Namtso in Tibet, Shanghai and Paris, among others.
Photo of Beijing taken by the SDGSAT-1
Photo of Beijing taken by the SDGSAT-1
Other News of the Week
Justin Sun, a Chinese crypto-millionnaire founder of the cryptocurrency platform TRON, announced in a tweet on Wednesday that he was planning a suborbital flight on Blue Origin New Shepard in 2022, and that he was launching the “Sea of Stars” campaign to select 5 individuals that will join him in this adventure. Nominees will include a prominent figure in the crypto world, a member of his cryptocurrency company TRON, an entrepreneur in the technology sector, a space artist, and a celebrity. Justin Sun announced that he had won the auction of Blue Origin’s first launch six months ago but “missed the launch”. Although he is originally from China, Justin Sun may bring the flag of Grenada, a Caribbean nation, in space, following his appointment as Grenada’s representative to the World Trade Organization in Geneva.
Yang Yuguang, a professor from China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), also vice-chair of the Space Transportation Committee at the International Astronautical Federation, was interviewed by CGTN on December 23 on the topic of China’s international space cooperation. Yang Yuguang highlighted the long history of cooperation between China and Europe - from the Double Star program to the recent data transmission mission between Zhurong and ESA’s Mars Express. When asked about the benefits and downsides of cooperation in the space sector, he called attention to the importance of sharing the financial burden, in the context of hugely expensive missions with limited return in the short run. Lastly, Yang Yuguang also reminded the audience of the opportunity offered by China to conduct experiments aboard the CSS.
Justin Sun launched the "Sea of Stars" campaign on December 22
Justin Sun launched the "Sea of Stars" campaign on December 22
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