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China to Put 10 Satellites into Orbit in 2004

China's growing space program will take another great leap skyward this year.


With a record number of satellite launches planned for 2004, the space program is entering a pivotal period.


"We are looking to place 10 satellites into orbit in 2004, more than any other year in China's space history,'' Zhang Qingwei, a top aerospace official, told China Daily yesterday in an exclusive interview.


The launches of new "stars" is only the dramatic climax of the drive to boost China's aerospace industry. A new next-generation satellite, currently under development, is expected to help the country entrench itself firmly within the world's small but technologically demanding space community.


The new model is a large-scale satellite based on a new platform. It has an expected mission life of 15 years, Zhang said.


Zhang's comments were the clearest official statement to date concerning China's space plans for 2004.


Last year the nation not only blasted six satellites into orbit but joined the very small club of nations who have put men in space. Other than China, only the former Soviet Union and the Unites States have accomplished the feat.


Including Probe-1, the first Sino-European joint satellite launched last week, there are 16 Chinese satellites still operating in orbit. That's far short of the surging needs created by economic growth and national defense requirements, Zhang said.


Satellites with different functions, from weather to remote sensing and geographic information as well as scientific research ones, are key to speeding up the country's economic growth and communication systems.


That's why more than 30 satellite launches were planned for the period between 2001-05 period alone. The 10 in the pipeline for this year include meteorological, natural resources and marine observation and geospace exploration satellites, Zhang said.


The first of them, a small one carrying scientific experiments, will blast off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Southwest China's Sichuan Province around the end of this spring.


But China's plans to boost its orbital presence go far beyond 2004.


A constellation of small environmental monitoring and disaster forecast satellites, will be established by 2010, said Yuan Jiajun, president of the Chinese Academy of Space Technology.


Also, by leveraging the country's proven launch expertise, China is seeking to provide in-orbit delivered satellite solutions for foreign countries, said Jiang Weixing, vice-director of CASC's Aerospace Department


But despite the number of launches, China's satellite manufacturing industry will have to jump some hurdles to boost sought-after exports.


For years, the country has worked to export made-in-China satellites. To date, however, it has only managed to export satellite components under a 2002 agreement Yuan's academy signed with France's Alcatel Space.


China's latest Dongfanghong satellite series, Dongfanghong-III,stands at only 3,000 watts in output power and has a working life of eight years. That's sometimes below the world's average, Jiang said.


Mindful of the disparities with similar industries in other space-faring nations, the State Council has approved a massive plan to develop China's new-generation communications satellite platform. The new models have longer life spans, are more reliable and have a higher capacity, he said.


Investment in the platform to date has amounted to 1.3 billion yuan (US$156 million), he said.


Satellites based on this "most sophisticated" platform are expected to last for 15 years, carry up to 50 transponders and weigh about 5,100 kilograms at takeoff.


Its end-of-life power output is expected to reach 10,000 watts, which will put it in line with the most advanced systems currently in use, Jiang said.


More than that, China's newest platform will be capable of performing similar functions as the world's leading satellite platforms. That includes the world-leading Boeing 702 of the Boeing Co, SB4000 of the Alcatel Space and A2100 of Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems, said Hu Zhongmin, another official of the CASC.


The Chinese platform could be used to develop large communication systems, live broadcast satellites and other types purposes, Hu said.


Ultimately, the new satellites will deliver cleaner signals to ground based platforms even if they use smaller antennas, said Zhang.


The first satellite system and the first satellite -- Sinosat-II -- to be built on this platform will be launched in the first half of 2005, Zhang said.


He said satellites based on the new large-scale platform will find a niche in the global commercial satellite market.


In fact, CASC is close to an agreement with APT Satellite Co Ltd in Hong Kong to supply a backup satellite based on the new platform for APSTAR VI, a telecommunications array scheduled to be launched this year, Jiang said.


(China Daily January 6, 2004)


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