Chinese Companies are Planning to Offer Space Tourism Flights by 2025

The first Long March 5 rocket being rolled out for launch at Wenchang in late October 2016. Credit: Su Dong/China Daily

One of the more famous features of Space Age 2.0 is the rise of the commercial space industry, also known as “NewSpace.” While the space agencies of the world plan to send astronauts back to the Moon (this time, to stay), crewed missions to Mars, and robotic missions to every corner of the Solar System, NewSpace companies are offering cost-effective launch services, sending commercial astronauts to space, and commercializing Low Earth Orbit (LEO). There’s also the prospect of space tourism, with companies like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX offering suborbital flights, trips to LEO, and beyond!

China, one of the fastest-growing nations in space, is looking to offer commercial flights to suborbital space. According to senior rocket scientists Yang Yiqiang, who spoke to the state-run China Global Television Network (CGTN), China will send its first group of commercial passengers on a spaceflight, with ticket prices ranging between $287,200 to $430,800 (2 to 3 million yuan). While China is a relative newcomer to the commercial space scene, this announcement signals its intent to catch up to companies based in the U.S. and other space competitors.

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Chinese Astronauts Successfully Grow Rice in Space

Rice is one of the world’s staple crops. It is regularly eaten by more than half the world’s population. And now, it’s been grown in microgravity, on board the newly launched Chinese Wentian space laboratory.

Wentian launched in July and joined up with the Tianhe module of China’s new space station. Its original complement of eight experiments included one that attempted to grow rice in microgravity.

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China’s Long March Rocket Booster Makes Uncontrolled Reentry Back to Earth

A previous launch of the Long March 5, lifting off from Wenchang on July 2nd, 2017. Credit: CNS

A Chinese Long March 5B rocket first stage made an uncontrolled, fiery reentry through Earth’s atmosphere over Southeast Asia today (Saturday), six days it launched a new science module to China’s Tiangong space station. While the eventual return of the booster was known, China made the decision to let it fall uncontrolled. They also did not share any tracking data, and the large size of the rocket stage drew concern about fragments possibly causing damage or casualties.

The US Space Command confirmed reentry of the debris from the roughly 30-meter-long core (100 ft.) stage of the Long March 5B occurred at 12:45 p.m. Eastern time (1645 UTC) on July 30, 2022 over the Indian Ocean.

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China has Added a Science Module to its New Space Station

A rendering of the Chinese Tiangong space station. Credit: CMSA

China has expanded their research capabilities on the Tiangong 3 space station by adding a science module, named Wentian. The new laboratory launched from the Wenchang launch center on July 23 and the module docked to the space station on July 25. China’s Manned Space Agency (CMSA) says the astronauts on board will soon be able to conduct experiments in microgravity and life sciences.

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China is Considering a Nuclear-Powered Mission to Neptune

Artist's impression of what the surface of Triton may look like. Credit: ESO

One look at the Planetary Decadal Survey for 2023 – 2032, and you will see some bold and cutting-edge mission proposals for the coming decade. Examples include a Uranus Orbiter and Probe (UOP) that would study Uranus’ interior, atmosphere, magnetosphere, satellites, and rings; and an Enceladus orbiter and surface lander to study the active plumes emanating from Enceladus’ southern polar region. Not to be outdone, China is also considering a nuclear-powered Neptune Explorer to explore the ice giant, its largest moon (Triton), and its other satellites and rings.

The mission was the subject of a study conducted by researchers from the China National Space Agency (CNSA), the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the China Atomic Energy Authority, the China Academy of Space Technology, and multiple universities and institutes. The paper that describes their findings (published in the journal Scientia Sinica Technologica) was led by Guobin Yu, a researcher with the School of Astronautics at Beihang University and the Department of Science and Technology and Quality at the CNSA.

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A new LEGO Spacecraft to Vote for: China's Long March 5 With the Tianwen-1 That Flew to Mars

A proposed Lego set of the Long March rocket and Tianwen-1. Credit: Lego.

Two Lego designers with a history of space-themed projects have teamed up for a new proposed set: China’s Long March CZ-5 and Tianwen-1 Mission. The set is currently gathering supporters on the LEGO Ideas website. If it gets enough support, LEGO will review it and possibly create it.

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Chinese Astronomers Detect an Interesting (But NOT Alien) Signal With the FAST Radio Observatory

The Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) has just finished construction in the southwestern province of Guizhou. Credit: FAST

The 500-Meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), (aka. Tianyan, “Eye of Heaven”), is the largest radio observatory in the world. Since the observatory became operational in January 2020, this facility has made significant contributions to radio astronomy and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). In particular, the observatory has been instrumental in detecting Fast Radio Burts (FRBs) and other cosmic phenomena that could be (but probably aren’t) possible indications of extraterrestrial communications.

Last week, while sifting through FAST data, the China Extraterrestrial Civilization Research Group (CECRG) from Beijing Normal University revealed that they discovered several signals that might be artificial in origin (a possible indication of an advanced civilization). These signals consisted of narrow-band electromagnetic radio transmission and were considered one of the best candidates for an extraterrestrial signal. Ah, but there’s a snag. According to subsequent news releases, those radio transmissions were apparently from Earth!

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China’s Lunar Lander Finds Water Under its Feet

The area marked by the red line are the scoop sampling points, the blue box identifies the imaging area of the panoramic camera and the base image is from landing camera. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Earlier this year, scientists from China’s Chang’E-5 lunar lander revealed they had found evidence of water in the form of hydroxyl from in-situ measurements taken while lander was on the Moon. Now, they have confirmed the finding with laboratory analysis of the lunar samples from Chang’E-5 that were returned to Earth.  The amount of water detected varied across the randomly chosen samples taken from around the base of the lander, from 0 to 180 parts per million (ppm), mean value of 28.5?ppm, which is on the weak end of lunar hydration.

“For the first time in the world, the results of laboratory analysis of lunar return samples and spectral data from in-situ lunar surface surveys were used jointly to examine the presence, form and amount of ‘water’ in lunar samples,” said co-author Li Chunlai from the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC), in a press release. “The results accurately answer the question of the distribution characteristics and source of water in the Chang’E-5 landing zone and provide a ground truth for the interpretation and estimation of water signals in remote sensing survey data.”

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Shenzhou-14 Astronauts Begin Their Mission of 6 Months in Space

Screen image captured at Beijing Aerospace Control Center on June 5, 2022 shows three Chinese astronauts, Chen Dong (C), Liu Yang (R) and Cai Xuzhe, waving after entering the space station core module Tianhe. (Xinhua/Li Xin)

The Shenzhou-14 mission, carrying three Chinese astronauts, docked successfully earlier this week with the Tiangong-3 space station. During their six-month mission on board the station, the new crew hopes to continue work on construction of the orbital Chinese outpost, which will be about one-fifth the size of the International Space Station.  

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China Announces Its New Flagship Space Telescope Mission

Artist's concept of Chinese Space Station Telescope (CSST).  Credit: Jaimito130805, CC BY-SA 4.0
Artist’s concept of the Chinese Space Station Telescope (CSST). Credit: Jaimito130805, CC BY-SA 4.0

Distant galaxies, dark matter, dark energy, and the origin and evolution of the universe itself are some of the many scientific goals of China’s newly announced space telescope. If all goes according to plan, the China Space Station Telescope (CSST) will blast off atop a Long March 5B rocket sometime in late 2023. Once in a safe orbit, CSST should begin observations in 2024. Judging by these research topics, it looks like the Chinese Academy of Sciences is throwing down an impressive scientific gauntlet for itself and its astronomers.

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