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China Starts Cutting Edge Space Science Projects After Declaring First Missions Successful

Nov 24, 2017     Email"> PrintText Size



China's Wukong dark matter probe blasts off for Sun-synchronous orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in December 2015. Qu Jing Liang China Daily 

China has declared its dark matter, x-ray observatory, microgravity and quantum space science missions successful, and is turning attention to a new batch of cutting edge projects.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) last Tuesday declared that the four missions making up its pioneering Strategic Priority Program on Space Science have been successful in terms of science, management and execution.

The missions, launched between December 2015 and June 2017, are the 'Wukong' (or DAMPE) dark matter probe, the Shijian-10 retrievable satellite, the Quantum Science Satellite 'Mozi', and the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT), also known as 'Insight'.

The first scientific results for Wukong and its hunt for clues on dark matter are expected to published soon, while the success of the Mozi quantum satellite has brought profound communications and national security implications.


The Moiz (QUESS) quantum science satellite passes over the experiment station at Ngari in Tibet. National Astronomical Observatories/CAS 

HXMT meanwhile was recently involved in the global observations of the electromagnetic counterparts to the gravitational waves unleashed by the collision of two neutron stars, also observed by Chinese Antarctic telescopes, putting a strict upper limit on electromagnetic radiation emitted and helping to confirm the unexpectedly weak and soft nature of the gamma ray burst.

CAS sees the missions as having improved China's global standing in space science and beyond, but looking to the future the next batch of missions were officially opened on Tuesday.

Next round of Chinese space science missions

The next phase of missions are already under development and will be launched around 2021, as part of a wider, long-term vision for space science.

These are SMILE, a space-weather observatory mission being developed in collaboration with the European Space Agency, a global water cycle observation mission (WCOM), the Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Thermosphere coupling exploration mission (MIT), the Einstein Probe (EP), and the Advanced Space-based Solar Observatory (ASO-S).

Operating in the new field of transient astronomy, the Einstein Probe will survey large portions of the universe for exotic space phenomena using very sensitive wide-filed X-ray camera and telescope.

EP will also aim to locate the electromagnetic wave counterparts of gravitational wave events, and survey the skies for phenomena including supernovae, neutron stars and transient activity in galactic centres.


China's Einstein Probe will survey a range of astronomical phenomena. CAS 

WCOM will further understanding of the global water cycle and its variations, while SMILE will investigate how charged particles coming from the sun interact with the Earth’s magnetosphere.

MIT will involve sending four spacecraft to various altitudes to simultaneously investigate the magneto-, iono-, and themospheres at the Earth’s polar regions.

ASO-S will study the connections between the solar magnetic field, solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

The missions were expected to enter the engineering development phase in 2017.


Icons for five missions making up China's next phase of space science missions, to launch around 2021. CAS 

Also launching around this time will be the Space Variable Objects Monitor (SVOM), a collaboration between CNES, the French space agency and China National Space Agency (CNSA).

The SVOM spacecraft aims to study Gamma Ray Bursts (GRBs) - the most powerful explosions in the universe - emanating from the era of the first generation of stars. The phenomena are triggered by the deaths of massive stars or merger of two smaller stars.


Artist's rendition of the deployed SVOM spacecraft. SVOM consortium 

Future proposals


With the next missions being in technically advanced stages, the process for deciding future missions for the next 10-15 years has already begun.

China's National Space Science Centre (NSSC) received 136 proposals early this year after issuing a call in December 2016. 80 were selected after evaluation by 30 academicians, which was followed by review by a panel of 15 experts headed by noted cosmochemist Ouyang Ziyuan.

Many of these proposals cover a very broad range, including astronomy, gravitational waves, solar wind, exoplanet hunting, space physics and more.


An artist impression of China's first batch of space science missions, DAMPE, QUESS, Shijian-10 and HXMT, in orbit. CAS 

These proposals have received funding until the end of 2017, when more in-depth proposals will need to be submitted ahead of further downselecting.

Dr Wu Ji, director general of the NSSC, which, under CAS, implements China's space science projects, told gbtimes.com at the Global Space Exploration Conference (GLEX 2017) in Beijing in June that around one third of the missions may continue into the next round, receiving around 1-2 years of funding for phase A study. A further downselection after this will isolate the proposals which will become background missions.

"China is a newcomer in this area and we are very open to international cooperation," Wu added. (gbtimes)


The Shijian-10 retrievable space science probe in vacuum chamber testing ahead of launch. CNS 


(Editor: LIU Jia)



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