Science

‘Divine’ intervention and China’s space race

Manned missions resume ahead of the Communist Party’s centenary bash

China will take another “small step” in its multi-billion-dollar space program with the help of “Divine” intervention.

Later this week, a Long March rocket will blast off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert with a three-man crew on board.

The mission, known as Shenzhou-12 or “Divine Vessel,” will rendezvous with an orbiting space module, which will be home to the astronauts for three months.

“Once on Tianhe or the core module of China’s [planned] space station, they will conduct a range of tasks such as repair and maintenance,” Director Yang Liwei, of China’s Manned Space Engineering Office, said as reported by the CGTN television network.

Why this matters:

  • The launch date is auspicious.
  • It will come just weeks before the ruling Communist Party of China celebrates its centenary in a series of nationwide events.
  • It will also be the first manned launch in five years. But it will not be the last.
  • To complete China’s space station by 2022, another eight missions are being planned.
  • The 30-meter high core launched the “Heavenly Harmony” unmanned module into low orbit earlier this year.
  • It is the main piece in the T-shaped Tianhe space station.

Mission statement: “The launch of the Shenzhou-12 crewed [mission] will be the third of 11 trips planned by China to complete the construction of its space station. They comprise three launches of the core module and two lab capsules of the space station, four cargo vessel flights and four manned missions,” China’s Manned Space Engineering Office said.

Space debris: Last month, an “out-of-control” Chinese rocket hurtled back to earth, sparking fears of falling debris. The remains were part of the Chinese Long March booster system used to launch the “Heavenly Harmony” unmanned module into low Earth orbit.

Delve deeper: China has ramped up its space program, landing scientific rovers on the dark side of the Moon and Mars this year. The next step is likely to be a planned mission to Jupiter. A launch date has yet to be announced.

Jupiter rising: “A major highlight of our future plans for interplanetary exploration is a Jupiter mission. Humankind still lacks comprehensive knowledge of the Jovian system and has conducted only a handful of operations there,” Zhang Rongqiao, of the China National Space Administration, told a media briefing.

China Factor comment: President Xi Jinping’s ruling Communist Party government is determined to go where only the United States has gone before.

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