Chinese space program

The space program of the People's Republic of China is directed by the China National Space Administration (CNSA). Its technological roots can be traced back to the late 1950s, when China began a ballistic missile program in response to perceived American (and, later, Soviet) threats. However, the first Chinese crewed space program only began several decades later, when an accelerated program of technological development culminated in Yang Liwei's successful 2003 flight aboard Shenzhou 5. This achievement made China the third country to independently send humans into space. Plans currently include a permanent Chinese space station by the end of 2022, crewed expeditions to the Moon and interplanetary missions to explore the Solar System and beyond.

Chinese officials have articulated long term ambitions to exploit Earth-Moon space for industrial development[1] and announced China's first landing of a reusable space vehicle at Lop Nur on September 6, 2020.[2][3][4][5][6][clarification needed]


Dong Fang Hong I - Chinese first satellite (1970), Space technology exhibition in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China

Early yearsEdit

After the launch of mankind's first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957, Mao decided during the National Congress of the CPC on May 17, 1958 to make China an equal with the superpowers ("我们也要搞人造卫星") (We need to develop the artificial satellite too), by adopting Project 581 with the objective of placing a satellite in orbit by 1959 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the PRC's founding.[7] This goal would be achieved in three phases: developing sounding rockets first, then launching small satellites and in the final phase, large satellites.

The first successful launch and recovery of a T-7A(S1) sounding rocket carrying a biological experiment (transporting eight white mice) was on July 19, 1964 from Base 603 (安徽广德誓节渡中国科学院六〇三基地).[8] As the space race between the two superpowers reached its climax with the conquest of the Moon, Mao and Zhou Enlai decided on July 14, 1967 that the PRC should not be left behind, and started China's own crewed space program.[9] China's first spacecraft designed for human occupancy was named Shuguang-1 (曙光一号) in January 1968.[10] China's Space Medical Institute (航天医学工程研究所) was founded on April 1, 1968, and the Central Military Commission issued the order to start the selection of astronauts. As part of the "third line" effort to relocate critical defense infrastructure to the relatively remote interior (away from the Soviet border), it was decided to construct a new space center in the mountainous region of Xichang in the Sichuan province, code-named Base 27.

Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, the very first Chinese spaceport.

In August 1969, the development of China's first heavy-lift satellite launch vehicle (SLV), the Feng Bao 1 (FB-1) (风暴一号, was started by Shanghai's 2nd Bureau of Mechanic-Electrical Industry. The all-liquid two-stage launcher was derived from the DF-5 ICBM. Only a few months later, a parallel heavy-lift SLV program, also based on the same DF-5 ICBM and known as CZ-2, was started in Beijing by the First Space Academy. The DF-4 was used to develop the Long March-1 SLV. A newly designed spin-up orbital insertion solid-propellant rocket motor third stage was added to the two existing Nitric acid/UDMH liquid propellant stages. An attempt to use this vehicle to launch a Chinese satellite before Japan's first attempt ended in failure on November 16, 1969.[11]

The second satellite launch attempt on April 24, 1970, was successful. A CZ-1 was used to launch the 173 kg Dong Fang Hong I (东方红一号, meaning The East Is Red I), also known as Mao-1. It was the heaviest first satellite placed into orbit by a nation, exceeding the combined masses of the first satellites of the other four previous countries. The third stage of the CZ-1 was specially equipped with a 40 m2 solar reflector (观察球) deployed by the centrifugal force developed by the spin-up orbital insertion solid propellant stage. Therefore, the faint magnitude 5 to 8 brightness of the DFH-1 made the satellite (at best) barely visible with naked eyes was consequently dramatically increased to a comfortable magnitude 2 to 3. The PRC's second satellite was launched with the last of the CZ-1 SLVs on March 3, 1971. The 221 kg ShiJian-1 (SJ-1) was equipped with a magnetometer and cosmic-ray/x-ray detectors.

The first crewed space program, known as Project 714, was officially adopted in April 1971 with the goal of sending two astronauts into space by 1973 aboard the Shuguang spacecraft. The first screening process for astronauts had already ended on March 15, 1971, with 19 astronauts chosen. The program would soon be cancelled due to political turmoil. A first flight test of the DF-5 ICBM was carried out in October 1971. On August 10, 1972, the new heavy-lift SLV FB-1 made its maiden test flight, with only partial success.[clarification needed] The CZ-2A launcher, originally designed to carry the Shuguang-1 spacecraft, was first tested on November 5, 1974, carrying China's first FSW-0 recoverable satellite, but failed. After some redesign work, the modified CZ-2C successfully launched the FSW-0 No.1 recoverable satellite (返回式卫星) into orbit on November 26, 1975. After expansion, the Northern Missile Test Site was upgraded as a test base in January 1976 to become the Northern Missile Test Base (华北导弹试验基地) known as Base 25.

The launch of Long March 3B Rocket in 1997

1970s to 1990sEdit

After Mao died on September 9, 1976, his rival, Deng Xiaoping, denounced during the Cultural Revolution as reactionary and therefore forced to retire from all his offices, slowly re-emerged as China's new leader in 1978. At first, the new development was slowed. Then, several key projects deemed unnecessary were simply cancelled—the Fanji ABM system, the Xianfeng Anti-Missile Super Gun, the ICBM Early Warning Network 7010 Tracking Radar and the land-based high-power anti-missile laser program. Nevertheless, some development did proceed. The first Yuanwang-class space tracking ship was commissioned in 1979. The first full-range test of the DF-5 ICBM was conducted on May 18, 1980. The payload reached its target located 9300 km away in the South Pacific (7°0′S 117°33′E / 7.000°S 117.550°E / -7.000; 117.550 (DF-5 ICBM test impact))[dubious ] and retrieved five minutes later by helicopter.[citation needed] Further development of the Long March rocket series allowed the PRC to initiate a commercial launch program in 1985, which has since launched more than 50 foreign satellites, primarily for European, African and Asian interests.[12]

The next crewed space program was even more ambitious and proposed in March 1986, as Astronautics plan 863-2. This consisted of a crewed spacecraft (Project 863-204) used to ferry astronaut crews to a space station (Project 863-205). Several spaceplane designs were rejected two years later and a simpler space capsule was chosen instead. Although the project did not achieve its goals, it would ultimately evolve into the 1992 Project 921. The Ministry of Aerospace Industry was founded on July 5, 1988. On September 15, 1988, a JL-1 SLBM was launched from a Type 092 submarine. The maximum range of the SLBM is 2150 km.

Along Deng's policy of capitalist reforms in the Chinese economy, Chinese culture also changed. Therefore, names used in the space program, previously all chosen from the revolutionary history of the PRC, were soon replaced with mystical-religious ones. Thus, new Long March carrier rockets were renamed Divine arrow (神箭),[13][14] spacecraft Divine vessel (神舟),[15] space plane Divine dragon (神龙),[16] land-based high-power laser Divine light (神光)[17] and supercomputer Divine might (神威).[18]

In June 1993, the China Aerospace Corporation was founded in Beijing. It was also granted the title of China National Space Administration (CNSA).[19]

On February 15, 1996, during the flight of the first Long March 3B heavy carrier rocket carrying Intelsat 708, the rocket veered off course immediately after clearing the launch platform, crashing 22 seconds later. It crashed 1.85 km (1.15 mi) away from the launch pad into a nearby mountain village.

In March 1998, the administrative branch of China Aerospace Corporation was split then merged into the newly founded Commission for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense while retaining the title of CNSA.

On July 1, 1999, the China Aerospace Corporation was converted into China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).[19]

In November 1999, after the 50th anniversary of the PRC's founding, China launched the Shenzhou 1 spacecraft and recovered it after a flight of 21 hours. It was the first uncrewed human spaceflight test conducted by China.

21st centuryEdit

Long March 2D lifting off in 2012
Chinese EVA spacesuit "Feitian".
Return capsule carrying lunar sample back to CAST after successful completion of Chang'e 5 mission.

Since the beginning of 21st century, China has been experiencing rapid economic growth, which led to higher investment into space programs and multiple major achievements in the following decades.

The first satellite of BeiDou-1, the experimental regional navigation system of China, was launched on October 31, 2000, as China began to built its own satellite navigation system as an alternative to GPS.

On October 15, 2003, astronaut Yang Liwei was put into space aboard Shenzhou 5 spacecraft by a Long March 2F rocket for more than 21 hours. China became the third country capable of conducting independent human spaceflight.

Around the same time, China began the preparation of extraterrestrial exploration, starting with the Moon. The Chinese Moon orbiting program was approved in January 2004[20] and was later transformed into Chinese Lunar Exploration Program. The first lunar orbiter Chang'e 1 was successfully launched on October 24, 2007, and was inserted into Moon orbit on November 7, making China the fifth nation to successfully orbit the Moon.

In March 2008, CNSA, along with the Commission for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, was merged into the newly formed Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

On September 27, 2008, two crew members of the Shenzhou 7 carried out China's first EVA. Three years later, on September 29, 2011, China launched Tiangong-1, the first prototype of Chinese space station module. The following Shenzhou 8, Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 missions proved that China had developed critical human spaceflight capabilities like space docking and berthing.

China began its first interplanetary exploration attempt in 2011 by sending Yinghuo-1, a Mars orbiter, in a joint mission with Russia. Yet it failed to leave Earth orbit due to the failure of Russian launch vehicle.[21] China then turned its focus back to the Moon by attempting the challenging lunar soft landing. On December 14, 2013, China successfully landed Chang'e 3 Moon lander and its rover Yutu on Moon surface. It made China the third country in the world capable of performing lunar soft landing, just after USSR and the United States.

In 2016, Tiangong-2 and Shenzhou 11 were launched into Low Earth orbit. A 33-day crewed spaceflight mission proved that China was ready for a long-term space station built and maintained by its own.

In year 2018, China performed more orbital launches than any other countries on the planet for the first time in history.[22]

On January 3, 2019, Chang'e 4 conducted the first ever soft landing on the far side of the Moon by any country, followed by 2020's Chang'e 5, a complex and successful lunar sample return mission, marking the completion of the three goals (orbiting, landing, returning) of the first stage of the lunar exploration program.

On June 23, 2020, the final satellite of Beidou was successfully launched by a Long March 3B rocket.[23] On July 31, 2020, Chinese leader Xi Jinping formally announced the commissioning of BeiDou Navigation Satellite System.[24]

On April 29, 2021, Tianhe, the 22-tonne core module of Tiangong space station, was successfully launched into Low Earth orbit by a Long March 5B rocket,[25] indicating the beginning of the construction of the Chinese Space Station.

Ever since the failure of Yinghuo-1, the Chinese space agency had embarked on its independent Mars mission. On July 23, 2020, China launched Tianwen-1, which included an orbiter, a lander, and a rover, on a Long March 5 rocket to Mars.[26] The Tianwen-1 was inserted into Mars orbit in February 2021 after a six-month journey, followed by a successful soft landing of the lander and Zhurong rover on May 14, 2021,[27] making China the third nation to both land softly on and establish communication from the Martian surface, after the Soviet Union and the United States.

Chinese space program and the international communityEdit

Dual-use technologies and outer spaceEdit

The PRC is a member of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and a signatory to all United Nations treaties and conventions on space, with the exception of the 1979 Moon Treaty.[28] The United States government has long been resistant to the use of PRC launch services by American industry due to concerns over alleged civilian technology transfer that could have dual-use military applications to countries such as North Korea, Iran or Syria, and announced an official embargo against the PRC in 2000.[citation needed] Thus, financial retaliatory measures have been taken on many occasions against several Chinese space companies.[29]

NASA's policy excluding Chinese state affiliatesEdit

Due to security concerns, all researchers from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are prohibited from working with Chinese citizens affiliated with a Chinese state enterprise or entity.[30] In April 2011, the 112th United States Congress banned NASA from using its funds to host Chinese visitors at NASA facilities.[31] In March 2013, the U.S. Congress passed legislation barring Chinese nationals from entering NASA facilities without a waiver from NASA.[30]

The history of the U.S. exclusion policy can be traced back to allegations by a 1998 U.S. Congressional Commission that the technical information that American companies provided China for its commercial satellite ended up improving Chinese intercontinental ballistic missile technology.[32] This was further aggravated in 2007 when China blew up a defunct meteorological satellite in low Earth orbit to test a ground-based anti-satellite (ASAT) missile. The debris created by the explosion contributed to the space junk that litter Earth's orbit, exposing other nations' space assets to the risk of accidental collision.[32] The United States also fears the Chinese application of dual-use space technology for nefarious purposes.[33] The U.S. imposed an embargo to the U.S. - China space cooperation throughout the 2000s and by 2011, a clause inserted by then-Congressman Frank Wolf in the 2011 U.S. federal budget forbids NASA from hosting or participating in a joint scientific activity with China.

The Chinese response to the exclusion policy involved its own space policy of opening up its space station to the outside world, welcoming scientists coming from all countries.[33] American scientists have also boycotted NASA conferences due to its rejection of Chinese nationals in these events.[34]


Initially, the space program of the PRC was organized under the People's Liberation Army, particularly the Second Artillery Corps. In the 1990s, the PRC reorganized the space program as part of a general reorganization of the defense industry to make it resemble Western defense procurement.

The China National Space Administration, an agency within the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense currently headed by Zhang Kejian, is now responsible for launches. The Long March rocket is produced by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, and satellites are produced by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. The latter organizations are state-owned enterprises; however, it is the intent of the PRC government that they should not be actively state-managed and that they should behave as independent design bureaus.

Locations of Chinese space program facilities

Universities and institutesEdit

The space program also has close links with:

Space citiesEdit

Suborbital launch sitesEdit

  • Nanhui (南汇县老港镇东进村) First successful launch of a T-7M sounding rocket on February 19, 1960.[39]
  • Base 603 (安徽广德誓节渡中国科学院六〇三基地) Also known as Guangde Launch Site (广德发射场).[40] The first successful flight of a biological experimental T-7A(S1) sounding rocket transporting eight white mice was launched and recovered on July 19, 1964.[41]

Satellite launch centersEdit

The PRC operates 4 satellite launch centers/sites:

Monitoring and control centersEdit

Domestic tracking stationsEdit

  • New integrated land-based space monitoring and control network stations, forming a large triangle with Kashi in the north-west of China, Jiamusi in the north-east and Sanya in the south.[46]
  • Weinan Station
  • Changchun Station
  • Qingdao Station
  • Zhanyi Station
  • Nanhai Station
  • Tianshan Station
  • Xiamen Station
  • Lushan Station
  • Jiamusi Station
  • Dongfeng Station
  • Hetian Station

Overseas tracking stationsEdit

Plus shared space tracking facilities with France, Brazil, Sweden, and Australia.

Crewed landing sitesEdit

Notable spaceflight programsEdit

Project 714Edit

As the Space Race between the two superpowers reached its climax with humans landing on the Moon, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai decided on July 14, 1967, that the PRC should not be left behind, and therefore initiated China's own crewed space program. The top-secret Project 714 aimed to put two people into space by 1973 with the Shuguang spacecraft. Nineteen PLAAF pilots were selected for this goal in March 1971. The Shuguang-1 spacecraft to be launched with the CZ-2A rocket was designed to carry a crew of two. The program was officially cancelled on May 13, 1972 for economic reasons, though the internal politics of the Cultural Revolution likely motivated the closure.

The short-lived second crewed program was based on the successful implementation of landing technology (third in the World after USSR and United States) by FSW satellites. It was announced a few times in 1978 with the open publishing of some details including photos, but then was abruptly canceled in 1980. It has been argued that the second crewed program was created solely for propaganda purposes, and was never intended to produce results.[49]

Project 863Edit

A new crewed space program was proposed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in March 1986, as Astronautics plan 863-2. This consisted of a crewed spacecraft (Project 863-204) used to ferry astronaut crews to a space station (Project 863-205). In September of that year, astronauts in training were presented by the Chinese media. The various proposed crewed spacecraft were mostly spaceplanes. Project 863 ultimately evolved into the 1992 Project 921.

China Manned Space Program (Project 921)Edit


Shenzhou 7 re-entry module
A model of Shenzhou spacecraft

In 1992, authorization and funding was given for the first phase of Project 921, which was a plan to launch a crewed spacecraft. The Shenzhou program had four uncrewed test flights and two crewed missions. The first one was Shenzhou 1 on November 20, 1999. On January 9, 2001 Shenzhou 2 launched carrying test animals. Shenzhou 3 and Shenzhou 4 were launched in 2002, carrying test dummies. Following these was the successful Shenzhou 5, China's first crewed mission in space on October 15, 2003, which carried Yang Liwei in orbit for 21 hours and made China the third nation to launch a human into orbit. Shenzhou 6 followed two years later ending the first phase of Project 921. Missions are launched on the Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) provides engineering and administrative support for the crewed Shenzhou missions.[50]

Space laboratoryEdit

The second phase of the Project 921 started with Shenzhou 7, China's first spacewalk mission. Then, two crewed missions were planned to the first Chinese space laboratory. The PRC initially designed the Shenzhou spacecraft with docking technologies imported from Russia, therefore compatible with the International Space Station (ISS). On September 29, 2011, China launched Tiangong 1. This target module is intended to be the first step to testing the technology required for a planned space station.

On October 31, 2011, a Long March 2F rocket lifted the Shenzhou 8 uncrewed spacecraft which docked twice with the Tiangong 1 module. The Shenzhou 9 craft took off on 16 June 2012 with a crew of 3. It successfully docked with the Tiangong-1 laboratory on 18 June 2012, at 06:07 UTC, marking China's first crewed spacecraft docking.[51] Another crewed mission, Shenzhou 10, launched on 11 June 2013. The Tiangong 1 target module is then expected to be deorbited.[52]

A second space lab, Tiangong 2, launched on 15 September 2016, 22:04:09 (UTC+8).[53] The launch mass was 8,600 kg, with a length of 10.4m and a width of 3.35m, much like the Tiangong 1.[54] Shenzhou 11 launched and rendezvoused with Tiangong 2 in October 2016, with an unconfirmed further mission Shenzhou 12 in the future. The Tiangong 2 brings with it the POLAR gamma ray burst detector, a space-Earth quantum key distribution, and laser communications experiment to be used in conjunction with the Mozi 'Quantum Science Satellite', a liquid bridge thermocapillary convection experiment, and a space material experiment. Also included is a stereoscopic microwave altimeter, a space plant growth experiment, and a multi-angle wide-spectral imager and multi-spectral limb imaging spectrometer. Onboard TG-2 there will also be the world's first-ever in-space cold atomic fountain clock.[54]

Space stationEdit

A larger basic permanent space station (基本型空间站) would be the third and last phase of Project 921. This will be a modular design with an eventual weight of around 60 tons, to be completed sometime before 2022. The first section, designated Tiangong 3, was scheduled for launch after Tiangong 2,[55] but ultimately not ordered after its goals were merged with Tiangong 2.[56]

This could also be the beginning of China's crewed international cooperation, the existence of which was officially disclosed for the first time after the launch of Shenzhou 7.[57]

The first module of Tiangong space station, Tianhe core module, was launched on 29 April 2021, from Wenchang Space Launch Site.[25] It was first visited by Shenzhou 12 crew on 17 June 2021. The Chinese space station is scheduled to be completed in 2022[58] and fully operational by 2023.

Lunar explorationEdit

Annotated image of the approximate landing site of the Chinese Chang'e-3 lander. It was launched at 17:30 UTC on 1 December 2013 and reached the Moon's surface on 14 December 2013. The lunar coordinates are: 44.12°N 19.51°W.

In January 2004, the PRC formally started the implementation phase of its uncrewed Moon exploration project. According to Sun Laiyan, administrator of the China National Space Administration, the project will involve three phases: orbiting the Moon; landing; and returning samples. The first phase planned to spend 1.4 billion renminbi (approx. US$170 million) to orbit a satellite around the Moon before 2007, which is ongoing. Phase two involves sending a lander before 2010. Phase three involves collecting lunar soil samples before 2020.

On November 27, 2005, the deputy commander of the crewed spaceflight program announced that the PRC planned to complete a space station and a crewed mission to the Moon by 2020, assuming funding was approved by the government.

On December 14, 2005, it was reported "an effort to launch lunar orbiting satellites will be supplanted in 2007 by a program aimed at accomplishing an uncrewed lunar landing. A program to return uncrewed space vehicles from the Moon will begin in 2012 and last for five years, until the crewed program gets underway" in 2017, with a crewed Moon landing some time after that.[59]

Nonetheless, the decision to develop a totally new Moon rocket in the 1962 Soviet UR-700M-class (Project Aelita) able to launch a 500-ton payload in LTO[dubious ] and a more modest 50 tons LTO payload LV has been discussed in a 2006 conference by academician Zhang Guitian (张贵田), a liquid propellant rocket engine specialist, who developed the CZ-2 and CZ-4A rockets engines.[60][61][62]

On June 22, 2006, Long Lehao, deputy chief architect of the lunar probe project, laid out a schedule for China's lunar exploration. He set 2024 as the date of China's first moonwalk.[63]

In September 2010, it was announced that the country is planning to carry out explorations in deep space by sending a man to the Moon by 2025. China also hoped to bring a Moon rock sample back to Earth in 2017, and subsequently build an observatory on the Moon's surface. Ye Peijian, Commander in Chief of the Chang'e programme and an academic at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, added that China has the "full capacity to accomplish Mars exploration by 2013."[64][65]

On December 14, 2013[66] China's Chang'e 3 became the first object to soft-land on the Moon since Luna 24 in 1976.[67]

On January 3, 2019, Chang'e 4, the China National Space Administration's lunar rover, successfully landed on the far side of the Moon. The rover was able to transmit data back to Earth despite the lack of radio frequencies on the far side, via a dedicated satellite sent earlier to orbit the Moon. The landing and data transmission is considered a landmark achievement for human space exploration.[68]

As indicated by the official Chinese Lunar Exploration Program insignia, denoted by a calligraphic Moon ideogram (月) in the shape of a nascent lunar crescent, with two human footsteps at its center, the ultimate objective of the program is to establish a permanent human presence on the Earth's natural satellite.

Yang Liwei declared at the 16th Human in Space Symposium of International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) in Beijing, on May 22, 2007 that building a lunar base was a crucial step to realize a flight to Mars and farther planets.[69]

According to practice, since the whole project is only at a very early preparatory research phase, no official crewed Moon program has been announced yet by the authorities. But its existence is nonetheless revealed by regular intentional leaks in the media.[70] A typical example is the Lunar Roving Vehicle (月球车) that was shown on a Chinese TV channel (东方卫视) during the 2008 May Day celebrations.

On 23 November 2020, China launched the new Moon mission Chang'e 5, and it brought a handful of lunar rocks back to Earth on 16 December 2020. Only two nations, the United States and the former Soviet Union have ever returned materials from the Moon, thus making China the third country to have ever achieved the feat.[71]

Mission to Mars and beyondEdit

Zhurong rover and lander on Martian surface. Image captured by HiRISE from NASA's MRO on 6 June 2021

In 2006, the Chief Designer of the Shenzhou spacecraft stated in an interview that:

搞航天工程不是要达成升空之旅, 而是要让人可以正常在太空中工作, 为将来探索火星、土星等作好准备。
Space programs are not aimed at sending humans into space per se, but instead at enabling humans to work normally in space, and prepare for the future exploration of Mars, Saturn, and beyond.

— CAS Academician Qi Faren[72]

Sun Laiyan, administrator of the China National Space Administration, said on July 20, 2006, that China would start deep space exploration focusing on Mars over the next five years, during the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2006–2010) Program period.[73] In April 2020, the Planetary Exploration of China program was announced. The program aims to explore planets of the Solar System, starting with Mars, then expanded to include asteroids and comets, Jupiter and more in the future.[74]

The first mission of the program, Tianwen-1 Mars exploration mission, began on July 23, 2020. A spacecraft, which consisted of an orbiter, a lander, a rover, a remote and a deployable camera, was launched by a Long March 5 rocket from Wenchang.[26] The Tianwen-1 was inserted into Mars orbit in February 2021 after a seven-month journey, followed by a successful soft landing of the lander and Zhurong rover on May 14, 2021.[27]

Space-based solar powerEdit

According to the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) presentation at the 2015 International Space Development Congress in Toronto, Canada, Chinese interest in space-based solar power began in the period 1990–1995. By 2011 there was a proposal for a national program, with advocates such as Pioneer Professor Wang Xiji stating in an article for the Ministry of Science and technology that "China had built up a solid industrial foundation, acquired sufficient technology and had enough money to carry out the most ambitious space project in history. Once completed, the solar station, with a capacity of 100MW, would span at least one square kilometre, dwarfing the International Space Station and becoming the biggest man-made object in space" and "warned that if it did not act quickly, China would let other countries, in particular the US and Japan, take the lead and occupy strategically important locations in space."[75] Global Security cites a 2011-01 Journal of Rocket propulsion that articulates the need for 620+ launches of their Long March 9 (CZ-9) heavy-lift system for the construction of an orbital solar power plant with 10,000 MW capacity massing 50,000 tonnes.[76]

By 2013 there was a national goal, that "the state has decided that power coming from outside of the earth, such as solar power and development of other space energy resources, is to be China's future direction" and the following roadmap was identified: "In 2010, CAST will finish the concept design; in 2020, we will finish the industrial level testing of in-orbit construction and wireless transmissions. In 2025, we will complete the first 100kW SPS demonstration at LEO; and in 2035, the 100MW SPS will have an electric generating capacity. Finally in 2050, the first commercial level SPS system will be in operation at GEO."[77] The article went on to state that "Since SPS development will be a huge project, it will be considered the equivalent of an Apollo program for energy. In the last century, America's leading position in science and technology worldwide was inextricably linked with technological advances associated with the implementation of the Apollo program. Likewise, as China's current achievements in aerospace technology are built upon with its successive generations of satellite projects in space, China will use its capabilities in space science to assure sustainable development of energy from space."[77]

In 2015, the CAST team won the International SunSat Design Competition with their video of a Multi-Rotary Joint concept.[78] The design was presented in detail in a paper for the Online Journal of Space Communication.[79][80]

In 2016, Lt Gen. Zhang Yulin, deputy chief of the PLA armament development department of the Central Military Commission, suggested that China would next begin to exploit Earth-Moon space for industrial development. The goal would be the construction of space-based solar power satellites that would beam energy back to Earth.[1]

In June 2021, Chinese officials confirmed the continuation of plans for a geostationary solar power station by 2050. The updated schedule anticipates a small-scale electricity generation test in 2022, followed by a megawatt-level orbital power station by 2030. The gigawatt-level geostationary station will require over 10,000 tonnes of infrastructure, delivered using over 100 Long March 9 launches.[81]


The China National Space Administration stated that their long-term goals are:

  • Improve their standing in the world of space science
  • Establish a crewed space station
  • Crewed missions to the Moon[82]
  • Establish a crewed lunar base[83]
  • Robotic mission to Mars
  • Exploit Earth-Moon space for industrial development.

List of launchers and projectsEdit

Launch vehiclesEdit

  • Air-Launched SLV able to place a 50 kilogram plus payload to 500 km SSO[84]
  • Kaituozhe-1 (开拓者一号) Solid fueled orbital launch vehicle based on the DF-21 missile with an extra upper stage, which is 4 stages in total.[85]
  • Kaituozhe-1A (开拓者一号甲)
  • Kaituozhe-1B (开拓者一号乙) with addition of two solid boosters[86]
  • Kaituozhe-2 (开拓者二号) A solid fueled orbital launch vehicle with a stage 1 based on the DF-31 missile, accompanied by the small stages 2 and 3.[87]
  • Kaituozhe-2A (开拓者一二甲) with addition of two DF-21 based boosters.
  • CZ-1D based on a CZ-1 but with a new N2O4/UDMH second stage
  • CZ-2E(A) Intended for launch of Chinese space station modules. Payload capacity up to 14 tons in LEO and 9000 (kN) liftoff thrust developed by 12 rocket engines, with enlarged fairing of 5.20 m in diameter and length of 12.39 m to accommodate large spacecraft[88]
  • CZ-2F/G Modified CZ-2F without escape tower, specially used for launching robotic missions such as Shenzhou cargo and space laboratory module with payload capacity up to 11.2 tons in LEO[89]
  • CZ-3B(A) More powerful Long March rockets using larger-size liquid propellant strap-on motors, with payload capacity up to 13 tons in LEO
  • CZ-3C Launch vehicle combining CZ-3B core with two boosters from CZ-2E
  • CZ-5 Second generation ELV with more efficient and nontoxic propellants (25 tonnes in LEO)
  • CZ-6 or Small Launch Vehicle, with short launch preparation period, low cost and high reliability, to meet the launch need of small satellites up to 500 kg to 700 km SSO, first flight for 2010; with Fan Ruixiang (范瑞祥) as Chief designer of the project[90][91][92]
  • CZ-7 used for Phase 4 of Lunar Exploration Program (嫦娥-4 工程), that is permanent base (月面驻留) expected for 2024; Second generation Heavy ELV for lunar and deep space trajectory injection (70 tonnes in LEO), capable of supporting a Soviet L1/L3-like lunar landing mission[93]
  • CZ-9 super heavy-lift launch vehicle.
  • CZ-11 small, quick-response launch vehicle.
  • Project 869 reusable shuttle system with Tianjiao-1 or Chang Cheng-1 (Great Wall-1) orbiters. Project of 1980s-1990s.
  • Project 921-3 Reusable launch vehicle current project of the reusable shuttle system.
  • Tengyun another current project of two wing-staged reusable shuttle system.

Satellites and science missionEdit

Space explorationEdit

Crewed LEO ProgramEdit

Chinese Lunar Exploration ProgramEdit

Deep Space Exploration ProgramEdit

China's first deep space probe, the Yinghuo-1 orbiter, was launched in November 2011 along with the joint Fobos-Grunt mission with Russia, but the rocket failed to leave Earth orbit and both probes underwent destructive re-entry on 15 January 2012.[105] In 2018, Chinese researchers proposed a deep space exploration roadmap to explore Mars, an asteroid, Jupiter, and further targets, within the 2020–2030 timeframe.[106][107] Current and upcoming robotic missions include:

These missions, with the exception of the Uranus mission, have been officially approved or are in the study phase as of June 2017.[115]


The Center for Space Science and Applied Research (CSSAR), was founded in 1987 by merging the former Institute of Space Physics (i.e. the Institute of Applied Geophysics founded in 1958) and the Center for Space Science and Technology (founded in 1978). The research fields of CSSAR mainly cover 1. Space Engineering Technology; 2. Space Weather Exploration, Research, and Forecasting; 3. Microwave Remote Sensing and Information Technology.

See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit