China will soon put a person into space and become the third nation in the world to boast manned space flight, a top Chinese aerospace official said Sunday.
A manned launch was not far off, Vice President Hu Hongfu of China Aerospace Science Technology Corp told a news conference at the third Zhuhai air show.
“It will not be long before Chinese astronauts can ride locally made spaceships into space,” Hu said.
The official gave no timetable but said it would happen “at the beginning of the 21st century.”
An Expensive Challenge
The former Soviet Union and the United States have been putting people into orbit since the early 1960s, but other nations have not deemed the challenge worth pursuing.
China already builds and launches its own satellites — for communications and weather forecasting, for example — and Hu said the country’s aerospace agencies would focus on developing longer-lasting, higher-capacity communications satellites in an attempt to catch up with foreign technology.
The new communication satellites would boost the country’s broadcasting industry, he said.
“The next goal for us would be to accelerate the effectiveness of satellites We’ll focus on increasing the lifespan and capacity of our communication satellites,” Hu said.
Development of China’s first generations of satellites had provided the company with a technological foundation and paved the way for later research, he added later.
But the company, which groups more than 130 aerospace agencies, said the lifting capability and success rate of China’s launch vehicles were almost on a par with those of other countries.
Technology Gap to Close
China would gradually close the distance between its domestic space industry and that of other nations, even though the country’s spending on space technology over the past 40 years had been equivalent to the amount spent by most advanced space-faring countries in just one year, Hu said.
He added that the company was willing to launch commercial satellites for Taiwan, with which China has a frosty political relationship.
“We’d be more than happy to provide launch services for domestic and foreign operators,” Hu said.
On China’s plan to launch manned space flights, Hu said China had made significant breakthroughs after the successful launch in November last year of the country’s first experimental spaceship, Shenzhou.
“The whole project is still under the stage of research and a lot of work needs to be done,” Hu said. “We need to have more tests of the unmanned spaceship.”
China last year announced a four-step manned spaceflight plan, with the aim of establishing a space station served by shuttle-style vehicles.
The China Aerospace Science Technology Corp was formed in July 1999 after the former China Aerospace Corp was split in two. The other half, the China Aerospace Machinery and Electronics Corporation, overlaps with CASTC on a number of areas, including satellite technology.