How Powerful is China’s Space Program?

Most of space stories usually focus on what the US Space Agency NASA is up to. But NASA is far from the only space program out there! China’s national space administration is called the China National Space Administration, or CNSA for short.

Founded in 1993, it’s a relatively new player on the space scene, but it’s grown by great leaps and bounds since its inception. China is only the third country to independently send astronauts into space, after Russia and the United States.

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So far they’ve sent 10 up there, and even put there own space station into orbit in 2011, the Tiangong-1. Tiangong-1 served as a space lab and a way to test docking capabilities. Two manned crews visited the space station, but since 2013 it’s been all by its lonesome.

In March of 2016 it stopped sending data back to earth, and in September, CNSA announced it would come down some time in the second half of 2017. This vague time frame has lead some to conclude that China has no control over the descent of Tiangong-1, and while most of it will probably burn up upon reentry, some of the denser parts, like rocket engines, could make it through.

What with the earth being mostly covered in water, it’s probably going to land in an ocean, but just in case, maybe keep one eye on the sky starting June 2017. Still, CNSA insists that the space station was only designed to last 2 years, so making it to 2017 is a huge success. The same month they sort-of announced Tiangong-1 was just going to do it’s own thing, CNSA successfully launched Tiangong-2.

Their second space station has improved living quarters and life support, and the first manned mission to it is scheduled to last 30 days, while the longest one to Tiangong-1 was just 12 days.

China’s goal is to have its own large space station by the early 2020s. You may be wondering why they don’t shack up with the rest of the world’s astronauts aboard the ISS.

Unfortunately, some borders in space are still defined by the ones down on Earth. In 2011 US legislators banned NASA from collaborating with the CNSA, citing fears of espionage. With NASA’s hands tied and the ISS locking the doors, China has had to go it alone, and has responded magnificently.

China’s not solely focused on putting men and women into orbit; they’ve also launched scientific satellites to study space weather and look for dark matter. More satellites are planned to look for black holes and study solar wind.

China has been collaborating with the European Space Agency on some of these satellites since 2003 in an effort to build international relations.They’ve also sent their own probes, a telescope, and a rover to the moon, and plan to send the first ever rover to the far side of the moon.

First, though, they’ll have to set up a communications satellite at a lagrange point so the rover can still talk to Earth.

They aren’t going to stop at the moon though, and have announced a plan to probe and rove Mars by the 2020.

CNSA may be a comparatively young space program, but they are ambitious and their achievements so far are impressive. China is considering using their space program to mine the moon for nuclear fuel.

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