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.