China’s economic growth is helping it reach for the stars – and that’s not just a metaphor anymore. The country successfully launched a probe into the moon’s orbit on October 24. The two ton Chang’e 1 probe, which carries a stereo camera, x-ray spectrometer and other equipment, was launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province.
It is now orbiting the moon and was scheduled to start transmitting pictures of the lunar landscape in late November.
Plans for a fourth space center were announced days after the probe’s launch. The facility will be built on Hainan island, in China’s south, and will be completed in 2010. A 407-hectare space theme park will be built nearby and 6,000 people will be relocated for the project. In addition to the Sichuan base, there are space centers in Jiuquan, Gansu province and Taiyuan, Shanxi province.
To go along with the new base, a new family of rockets will be built at a cost of US$529 million. The Long March 5 rockets will be able to carry a heavier load, comprising communications satellites and lunar probes, than current versions.
China also plans to replace its imported communications and broadcast satellites with locally-produced ones by 2010. One in 12 of the satellites currently used are Chinese-made.
China’s space efforts are being matched by its Asian rivals Japan and India. Chang’e 1 was launched a week after a Japanese probe was sent up, and India has announced plans to launch its own lunar probe next April.
The space administration isn’t resting on its laurels. It has invited private capital to fund its more ambitious projects, which include putting a man on the moon and having a space station in orbit by 2020. It said “competent institutions and companies” were welcome to make donations.
The country’s third manned space mission has been penciled in for after next summer’s Olympics. Shenzhou 7 will launch in October carrying three astronauts who will perform China’s first space walk.