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DFHour #37: A new space alliance, China's mini artificial Moon, and more

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 10-16 Jan 2022. Between the formation of a space alliance, China’s miniature artificial Moon and CALT’s contribution to China’s Olympic bobsled dreams, this week’s news are particularly diverse and colorful. Before analysing those exciting news, we first highlight the role of Shenzhen as a major player in China’s space industry. Check out our weekly episode for more in-depth analysis!
Highlight of the Week: Shenzhen, a major player in China’s space industry
An article published on Wednesday briefly reviews the development of Shenzhen’s space industry, highlighting its capacities in cutting-edge space technologies as well as its formidable potential for further development given its strong industrial base.
After having formulated a development plan for the aerospace industry in 2013, Shenzhen invested 7 billion RMB in the development of ‘future industries’ over 7 years (2014-2020), including the aerospace industry. As reiterated in the June 2021 “Opinions on Supporting the Development of the Satellite and Application Industry in Shenzhen”, the city has been focusing mainly on avionics, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), satellite navigation applications and micro-satellites. Today, Shenzhen possesses a strong space-focused industrial base, covering satellite manufacturing and operation, the manufacturing of key components (chips) and satellite applications. One leading Shenzhen company is Shenzhen Aerospace Dongfanghong HIT, currently developing an 8 satellites Synthetic-Aperture Radar (SAR) constellation to be completed in 2026 (with the two first satellites to be launched in 2023). Other companies include Zero Gravity Labs, CAS Space and ZTE (though the latter is a broader telecommunications conglomerate with some space activities).
Compared to the beginnings of China’s aerospace industry development, when activity was heavily centralized in Beijing, we can notice that the space industry is much more diversified from a geographical standpoint, with clusters developing all over China. A review of Chinese commercial space funding in 2021 published by Chinese company database Qichacha indeed reveals that out of the 35 rounds of funding, 18 were based out of Beijing (we analyse the report more thoroughly in our weekly episode). While companies based in the capital represent almost half of the number of funding rounds, the proportion would have been much higher in the early years of China’s commercial space sector. Shenzhen is definitely a space industry cluster to keep an eye on!
Futian District, in Shenzhen (credit: Caixin Global)
Futian District, in Shenzhen (credit: Caixin Global)
The Week in Launch
We saw the announcement this week of the completion of the flame trench at the launch pad that Landspace is developing at Jiuquan. The article was actually published on the Wechat official account of Tongda Engineering Company (通达工程公司), a company that specializes in building things that handle a lot of fire, including waste incinerators, high-temperature furnaces and kilns, and, as it turns out, flame trenches at China’s four launch sites. An interesting insight into a different part of the launch industry value chain. 
On a more general note, an article published on China News Service discussed prospects for China’s future launch sector, including suborbital space tourism. Notably, Yang Yiqiang of CAS Space confirmed that the maiden launch of the Lijian-1 rocket (力箭一号), the “first four-stage solid-fuelled rocket developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology (CAST)”, would take place in early 2022. Yang Yiqiang believes that although China’s commercial aerospace sector is still in its infancy, the commercial space sector has the potential to significantly contribute to the national space program - e.g., through fostering innovation. He was also quoted as saying that CAS Space may achieve suborbital space tourism by 2025.
The Week in China’s Space Program
Last week, Hou Yongchun, the deputy chief engineer of the Chinese Space Station’s systems (and notably life support systems), revealed details regarding the increasing risk that orbital debris represent for the Chinese Space Station and its crew. The CSS has a 4-level approach to protect its taikonauts against catastrophic collisions: protection (防), avoidance (躲), repair (堵), and escape (逃). While the CSS is designed to protect against the impact of very small debris or micrometeorites (防), for larger debris or other satellites, the station adopts avoidance maneuvers to change orbits and avoid collision trajectories (躲). If the CSS gets hit by debris which manages to dent and to punch a tiny hole in the space station, a network of acoustic sensors enable the taikonauts to locate the leak and attempt to repair it (堵). Lastly, if the damage is too serious, the last solution is to escape (逃). You can check our weekly episode for more details!
How the Chinese Space Station Handles Space Debris, A Retrospective Look at 2021 Rounds of Funding
How the Chinese Space Station Handles Space Debris, A Retrospective Look at 2021 Rounds of Funding
Let’s now turn to another major endeavour undertaken by China: lunar exploration. An article by the South China Morning Post revealed that China has built a miniature “artificial Moon” in Xuzhou, Jiangsu to simulate the low gravitational field on the Moon. This miniature Moon, housed in a vacuum chamber, measures 60cm in diameter and is composed of rocks and dust similar to those found on the lunar surface. The low gravitational field (1/6th of that of the Earth) is generated by a magnetic field and can be sustained for “as long as you want”, according to Li Ruilin from the China University of Mining and Technology. This will enable the performance of a wide variety of scientific experiments and will enable China to prepare for its future lunar exploration missions - including the construction of a lunar base, which could start as soon as 2027.
Model of the artificial Moon in a vacuum chamber (published in SCMP)
Model of the artificial Moon in a vacuum chamber (published in SCMP)
The Week in Satellite Applications
In the latest news from the growing space cluster in the Yangtze River Delta, Jiangsu Provincial Department of Natural Resources approved the Satellite Application Technology Center in Nanjing. The center includes plans to increase the diversity of EO data available to the city, as well as increase the applicability of satellite data across a variety of city applications.
Lastly, Piesat, a leading Chinese satellite operation and application service provider specialised in remote sensing data analytics, recently signed a strategic cooperation agreement with China Telecom (Gansu branch). According to the agreement, both companies will build strategic partnerships in the fields of surveying and mapping, remote sensing, geographic information systems, as well as urban and rural planning.
Signature of a strategic cooperation agreement between Piesat and China Telecom (Gansu branch)
Signature of a strategic cooperation agreement between Piesat and China Telecom (Gansu branch)
The Week in Satellite Manufacturing + operation
Spacety recently announced the formation of the Tiansuan Alliance (天算联盟), constituted mainly of Spacety (天仪研究院), a leading a commercial satellite manufacturer, and of the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications (BUPT) Shenzhen Research Institute. Both parties had already signed a cooperation agreement to jointly build the Tiansuan constellation (天算) on October 31st, 2021. The objective of the project is to establish an “open source space computing on-orbit test platform”, through building a satellite network empowered by aerospace computing and AI and sharing data among participants, in order to facilitate the development of key technologies - including remote sensing, satellite navigation and communications (e.g., 6G). The launch of the first satellite of the Tiansuan constellation, BUPT-1, is planned for May 2022. The newly formed alliance welcomes applications from other entities until March 20, 2022 (you can find the application link in the article).
Other News of the Week
This week we learned that CALT has contributed expertise in aerodynamic design to the recently-formed (2016) Chinese Olympic bobsled team, with the team planning to compete in the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics. Depending on their performance, we will be on the lookout for any follow-on films to the 1993 classic Cool Runnings, but with a 21st century rocket science twist. 
On January 15, the opening of the Huizhou Space Science Museum was reported, 2 weeks after its opening on January 1st. Designed and built by a subsidiary of CASIC, the museum covers a total area of ~1,400 m² and is located in the Guangdong Haina Modern Agricultural Ecological Park. The public can learn about China’s space program, including about the mythological references behind spacecraft’s names, observe models of the main rockets and satellites (i.e., Long March series, Dongfanghong satellites, Beidou satellites, Tiangong, among others), and about space science more generally. This is the second museum dedicated to space to open within an ~8 months period, after the largest astronomy museum opened in Shanghai in July 2021 - which may show that the Chinese government wishes to promote interest and support for space exploration among the public.
Speaking of which – last but not least, a paper written by American academic and China hand Lincoln Hines, released this week, outlines China’s public opinion towards space, and how it impacts the space sector. This should be an area of increasing importance given the role of national pride in China’s space program. 
The Huizhou Space Science Museum opened on January 1st
The Huizhou Space Science Museum opened on January 1st
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