Weiyang is a tiny planet with the orbit inside the Mercury orbit. On average its distance from the Sun is about ten million kilometers. It was discovered three years ago by Chinese comrades and called “Weiyang” – “the Sun’s bodyguard” or something like that. […] Lu Shi-er failed to closely approach this planet but he calculated its orbit rather precisely.
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, “The Land of Crimson Clouds”
Third-world countries on the launch
It is quite possible that science fiction authors’ predictions that the 21st century will become the start of the space era for the entire mankind and not just tricking with high-tech toys for two or three super-powers are destined to come true as early as in the foreseeable future. Over the recent years the two traditional space race leaders – the United States and Russia – were propped up by China. Now it is making a mighty leap and is quite capable of leaving at least Russia behind. And following it one can distinctly see the countries undergoing a tremendous technological development the participation of which in the space exploration not long ago was unthinkable, if we speak seriously.
The list of the countries actively involved in the space exploration and having their own space programs and conducting research activities, the countries which have already launched or going to launch their own spacecraft, includes Poland, Lithuania, Croatia, Malaysia, Mexico, Venezuela, Peru, Turkey, Chile, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mongolia, Singapore, Ecuador, etc. Apart from the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) there are also such international organizations as Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO) and Arab Space Research Agency.
In December 2013 Bolivia launched its first satellite named after Tupac Katari – the Indian chief who in the 16th century headed the revolt against the Spanish conquerors. The satellite is used to provide satellite communication services, television broadcasting and the Internet access to the users in Bolivia. According to the official statements it will enable the country’s saving over US$ 20 mln per year on communication expenses.
The project was unconditionally supported by China which in general constantly supports third countries’ space programs having firmly occupied this niche after Russia quit it. The Bolivian satellite was launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in the south-west of China using Long March 3B launch vehicle. The satellite was developed by Bolivian experts assisted by Chinese scientists. Moreover, more than US $ 250 mln out of the US $ 300 mln invested into the project is the credit granted to Bolivia, again, by China.
Nigeria which has traditionally been in the area of the Russian space interests now tends to cooperate with China. The first three satellites of this country, NigeriaSat-1, NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X, though they were built with the assistance of the UK, were launched from the Russian launching sites (from Plesetsk in 2003 and on the Ukrainian Dnepr launch vehicle from Yasny in 2011). However, NigComSat-1 (the first communication satellite created in Africa) like NigComSat-1R, were launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in China using Chinese launch vehicle Long March 3BE.
The successful application of the country’s own satellites involved in the space exploration of the mineral deposits, weather forecasting, communication provision and research activities inspired Nigerian experts to create a military satellite for the Earth remote sensing, NigeriaSAR-1, its launch is scheduled for 2015.
For approximately the same time the first Nigerian astronaut will be launched, obviously, on the Chinese manned spaceship. Nigerian scientists even think of creating the country’s own automatic station for the Moon exploration – most probable, also with the active involvement of the Chinese experts. By 2018 Nigeria plans to create its own launch vehicle and by 2025-2028 – a launching site in the country’s territory, this time with the Ukrainian assistance.
Gaganauts are mission-ready
India is rightfully considered the fourth space power (after the USA, Russia and China). It launches its own as well as foreign (including French, German, Canadian and Singaporean) satellites using its own launch vehicles from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (Sriharikota Island, Andhra Pradesh State). The only thing which holds it away from the “top three” is the fact that the country has not launched its own manned flights.
As the practice shows, nowadays it is cheaper and more efficient to use automatic spacecraft – it eliminates the costs of the expensive crew life support and safety systems, in most cases it is not required to take the satellite back to the Earth. However, for the third countries – “space club” members manned flights are, firstly, an important political step (especially, for India, considering its constant competition with China). And secondly, the Man in the Space is a bright visualization of the space technologies mastered by the country, which is especially important for its international space (and not only space) cooperation.
As far back as in 2006 Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, proposed the implementation of the national program of manned space flights and asked Indian specialists to consider the development of this program. The same year the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) presented a report confirming India’s technical ability to prepare and launch a manned spacecraft as early as in 2014. Even a name for the Indian astronauts was coined – gaganauts, from the word gagan which means “sky” in Sanskrit. It is quite possible that the name was chosen because it sounds similar to the name of the mankind’s first cosmonaut – Yuri Gagarin.
The first stage of the program was kicked off in 2007 with the launch of the first Indian recoverable spacecraft SRE-1 (Space capsule Recovery Experiment) weighing 550 kg. For the 2-person manned spacecraft launch in 2014-2015 GSLV Mark II (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle) application was planned. As per the preliminary estimates, the project cost amounted to US$ 2-3 bln. In 2009 India Budget Planning Commission approved this financial plan.
Then the manned space flight timelines began to be postponed. In 2010 Kumaraswamy Radhakrishnan, the ISRO Head, announced that India would “launch the first manned spacecraft in 2016”. Then he stated 2017 as the target time. In 2012 the ISRO officially announced the delay of the manned space flight to the 2020s. It was caused by the financial and economic crisis – the government chose to relocate the funds to solving social problems and military needs. Another reason was the fact than India is going to independently, without international support, implement its space program (originally, it was planned that the Indian manned spacecraft would be developed with Russia’s assistance – on the base of the Soyuz). Consequently, the plans of India’s manned missions to the Moon (initially scheduled for the 2020s) and the Mars (the 2030s) are put off to a later time.
But India did not quit cooperation with other countries striving to the world “space club”. Thus, it assists in the active development of the Algeria’s space program. The country plans to launch its own satellites from Hammaguir test site located in the south-west of the country. In 1952-1967 this test site was already used for the launch vehicle tests, but those were French launch vehicles. It was from there that the first French satellite, Astérix, was launched in 1965, however, soon after, in 1967 the facility was handed over to Algeria.
Algerian National Space Program objectives are by far less ambitious than those of Nigeria with its astronauts. Its main objective for the period until 2020 is to bring space technologies to the service of the country’s social and economic development. To attain this goal, until 2017 it is planned to launch 10 satellites, create the country’s own infrastructure for the spacecraft control and streamline national space industry staff training. By the way, the first Algerian satellite ALSAT-1 was launched from Plesetsk in Russia but ALSAT-2 was already launched from the Indian launch site.
Belarus and Ukraine
July 22, 2012 the Republic of Belarus successfully launched its own spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome (Kazakhstan) thus becoming a full-fledged space power. We remind you that the first launch failed through the fault of Russian experts and the very first Byelorussian satellite perished without reaching the orbit.
For the small republic economy it was a noticeable blow and there was a risk that the allied country would prefer space cooperation with China, provided that Belarus had for a long time built up economic relations with China. However, due to the fact that the entire national space program was initially linked to Russia, the republic’s leaders preferred re-launching the satellite using a Russian launch vehicle. It proved to be a success.
Thanks to the launch of the country’s own satellite Belarus is creating an independent remote Earth sensing system to save on third parties’ services on space information acquisition and processing. All the mission equipment on the satellite is made in Belarus, at JSC PELENG. Active service life of the first Belarus spacecraft is five years.
The Belarus satellite allows acquiring B&W images with the maximum resolution of 2.1m and colour images of 10.5 m. The space information is necessary for forestry, Ministry of Emergency Situations, Ministry of Agriculture and Food as well as the Ministry for Natural Resources and Environmental Protection. Using the country’s own satellite Belarus not only covers internal demand for the space images but also offers them to other countries. Apart from Russia the Belarus space information caused interest of Azerbaijan and Venezuela.
Belarus created the entire infrastructure required for the reception, transmission and processing of the space information. The Belarus remote Earth sensing space system ground segment includes Belarus ground control complex and Belarus ground complex for the reception, processing and distribution of space information. The Belarus ground control complex unites the satellite mission control centre and command and measurement system. The concept of the Belarus remote Earth sensing space system was developed by the National Academy of Sciences in 2003. Therefore, the project implementation took only nine years.
The author of this article was lucky to visit the Belarus mission control centre – it is a small room equipped with the computers, completely unlike the pompous Russian mission control centre seemingly designed for controlling a huge space fleet. In this sense, the Belarus Academy of Sciences has “both a lower chimney and a thinner smoke”, as the Russian saying goes, but to control the only satellite several computers are enough, and as the constellation is expanded, the national mission control centre can be extended too.
As far as Ukraine is concerned, despite the fact that in effect it is in the state of war the plants of the country’s rocket and space industry only in January-June 2014 increased the production capacity by 11.8% compared with the similar period in 2013 – to UAH 1.54 bln. Hereby in the total sales scope the export share amounted to 68.5%. Ukraine’s present-day key trade and economic partners are the USA, the EU countries, Brazil and Saudi Arabia.
The country created its full-fledged space industry which develops and manufactures scientific and applied satellites of several types and launch vehicles as far back as in 1992. In 1999 more than twenty companies and organizations were made subordinate to the National Space Agency. These companies include Yuzhnoye State Design Office and Production Association Yuzhny Machine-Building Plant named after A. M. Makarov. Ukraine launched the country’s first satellite (Sich 1) with its own launch vehicle (Tsyklon) on August 31, 1995 from the Russian Plesetsk Cosmodrome.
Currently the republic’s experts design new national satellites, Mayak launch vehicle (in addition to the already available ones – Zenit, Tsyklon and Dnepr). Svityaz partially-shuttling spacecraft created on the basis of An-225 airplane and Zenit launch vehicle and Sura full-shuttle two-stage spaceship are now in the design stage. The country is quite well-footed both in terms of the rocket and space equipment creation and in terms of providing “export” launch services; it has a developed ground infrastructure and ensures support of the required standard of the national space science.
Jade Rabbit on the Moon
In December 2013 the Chinese Cháng’é-3 spacecraft with Yutu moon rover (Jade Rabbit – after the mythological rabbit who belonged to Cháng’é goddess) landed on the Moon. The Moon landing took place near the Sinus Iridum crater. The satellite landed at about 21.10 hours Beijing time (17.10 hrs Moscow time). Therefore, China became the third country in the history of the mankind whose spacecraft gently landed on the Moon. Besides, this is the first landing module launched to the Moon in the 21st century. China’s plans to land the man on the Moon (approximately in 2020) are also known. And then – to arrange a manned flight to the Mars. By 2050 China expects to create a permanent base on the Moon, by this time Long March 9 super-heavy vehicle is supposed to be created.
Unlike India, China is truly close to these plans’ implementation – manned space flights became routine reality in the country long ago, and now active works to create the national modular orbital station are underway. China has various launch vehicles, including heavy ones, has a vast range of applied satellites of virtually all kinds, including geostationary ones (more than one hundred satellites have been launched over 40 years).
The alarming aspect is the fact that Chinese space program, despite the declared peaceful nature, includes a definite military cluster. As far back as in 2007 the missile capable of hitting objects hundreds of kilometers over the Earth surface was successfully tested. The country’s own obsolete meteorological satellite was used as the drill target. The ballistic missile hit it at the altitude of 864 km.
Therefore, the engagement zone of the Chinese missiles now includes military communication satellites as well as GPS and GLONASS satellites the data from which are used in the precision weapons (by the way, China has its own national BeiDou satellite navigation system). Let us recall that before this the tests of the ballistic missiles as anti-satellite weapon were conducted by the USA but it was a long time ago – in 1985.
Well, other space powers can just once again “express their concern” over this fact. In the meantime, in 2012 China studied an asteroid surface using a spacecraft. One year before China launched its first orbital station and performed the first docking. In 2012 the first manned flight to the national orbital station took place.
In addition to the three existing launch sites – Jiаquán, Xichang and Tàiyuán – China is building the fourth one – Hainan. Besides, apart from dozens of the scientific and production space industry companies China has the third largest space-tracking fleet and ground station network, including, beyond its own territory (in Namibia, Kiribati and some other countries).
China rejected participation in the international space station project in favour of its own Tiangong-3 modular orbital station, its launch is planned for 2016. By 2020 it will be completed by the required modules and platforms. The station weight will be 60 tons, constant crew – three or more taikonauts, the orbit altitude: 340–450 km.
Currently an automatic cargo spaceship is being created for the station procurement. China is also actively developing promising new generation shuttle transport space systems. Thus, Shenlong space plane prototype is undergoing environmental tests.
What can the Russian science oppose to it? First and foremost – new developments and innovations. The “old baggage” is not enough to break through into the space. In effect, the Long March launch vehicle which lifted the first taikonaut looks suspiciously similar to the Soviet UR-200 launch vehicle developed in 1963. And the Shenzhou manned spaceship looks so similar to Soyuz-TM that four employees of the Russian TsNIIMASH-Export Company (including the ex-General Director) were convicted for 5 to 11 years’ imprisonment for the illegal sales of the secret technologies to China.
China does not conceal that for the full-blooded breakthrough into the space it does not have sufficient scientific and engineering potential. This is how the experts explain its cooperation with the countries of the “space Tier 3”: it is easier to “assemble” and develop together. One way or another, but in many ways thanks to this process the mankind continues storming the Space.