Military spells out space ambitions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2007, 12:00am

Civilian research goals have defence significance

The top military defence planning body has for the first time revealed detailed goals and a specific agenda for the country's space programme, a sign of unprecedented confidence in the massive investment of the past few years.

In its Space Science Development Plan for the 11th Five-Year Programme that was released last weekend, the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence defined five civilian research goals with military significance that the commission wants to realise relatively soon.

The biggest-scale project in the plan is a mainland spacecraft that will orbit the moon this year and the first soft lunar landing of a domestic craft in 2012.

Another project is the launch of the world's most advanced hard X-ray modulation telescope by 2010. The orbiting telescope is expected to be the nation's first astronomical satellite designed to discover more than 1,000 new black holes and execute other deep space observations.

Within five years, mainland astronauts will also walk in space; China will join Russia in sending an unmanned space probe to Mars' moon Phobos to collect soil samples; and three satellites studying and monitoring solar activities will lift off.

Ren Zhongbao, an expert in space policy and management, said even though the commission's plan was for civilian projects, it was clearly military-oriented.

Dr Ren, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the academy released its own space development proposal a month ago, suggesting that China give priority to developing fundamental technologies such as space positioning, remote sensing and communications.

He said that compared to the academy proposal, the commission's programme would yield results that could be more directly applied to military use.

Dr Ren said the new space development programme heavily relied on the fruits of basic research carried out by various research and development schemes, including the national technology programmes known as 863, 973 and Gongguan.

All of these three programmes absorbed more than 640 billion yuan in funding from 1996 to 2000, Dr Ren added.