INTERNATIONAL investors are being offered a chance to move beyond the usual mainland investments in property and roads by backing China's space research programme. Beijing professor Lin Jin, vice-president of the China International Exchange Centre for Space Science and Technology, is looking for investors prepared to inject their cash into parent company China Aerospace Corp to fund research experiments on satellites and theoretical work on the ground. China has been marketing its Long March rocket as a cheap and reliable launch vehicle for satellites since the late 1980s. Professor Lin, on a visit to Hong Kong, said several projects at the corporation - which was the Ministry of Space Industry until this year - were ''hanging around'' awaiting funds which had been cut off after the corporation was spun off from the Government. There were lots of uses for data that could be collected from satellites, he said, such as finding sites of mineral deposits or monitoring the environment. He said the corporation needed cash from ''private entrepreneurs - the new rising stars in Beijing'', or from foreign investors. ''I have been working 31/2 decades for the Government. I never cared about money, but now we have to get the budget by our own efforts,'' he said. ''I personally am trying my luck. I have made friends with a lot of capitalists. We will take whatever we can grasp.'' One project ''tentatively agreed'' is a joint effort by China, India, Pakistan and South Korea to launch a satellite designed to predict natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. Professor Lin said the deal would be discussed at a ministerial level conference to be held in Bangkok in January. Such a low-cost, high-efficiency small satellite ''is a global phenomenon'' that will pass over all the countries involved. Small satellites cost between US$10 million and $30 million, he said, adding that he intended to talk to firms such as Hongkong Telecom regarding possible backing. He said the maverick recoverable satellite launched by China on October 8, which was supposed to return eight days later but went out of control, would fall back to earth next October, adding that US reports that the satellite had come down in the Pacific on October 29 were ''incorrect''. ''We are tracking the satellite. It will come down next October,'' Professor Lin said, but he did not say where. The satellite, designed to take readings and carry out experiments such as tests of crystal development in weightless conditions, was the 15th launched by China, which has claimed ''100 per cent success'' for the first 14. He said the creaking Aerospace Corp, which employs 250,000 people, had yet to bite the bullet and cut its workforce. Economists have said the huge state outfits need to lose typically a quarter of their staff. ''This is one of the most difficult issues China is facing. Psychologically, people are not trained to change jobs,'' said Professor Lin. He said more private housing and social benefits had to be made available before people could be made redundant. With his salary of $100 a month, he gets free government housing and medical care, while people thrown out of their jobs would lose their benefits. ''You can't fire people. If you fire them, how will they survive? But at the same time, we don't have enough contracts for all the people to work,'' he said.