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Asian space race

By Wikipedia,
the free encyclopedia,

Yang Liwei was the first man sent into space by the Chinese space program
Yang Liwei was the first man sent into space by the Chinese space program

The Asian space race is a term used for a purported race among several Asian countries to achieve scientific and technological advancements in space.

Outer space is also of strategic concern to a growing number of countries worldwide. Earth's orbit firstly and Manned spaceflight then are becoming the main battles ground to ensure national security.

A number of Asian nations have become serious contenders in the race to control space in past and recent years.

Asian space powers

Amongst 10 countries that have successfully launched a satellites independently there are 5 Asian countries which have accomplished this, including (in chronological order): Japan, China, India, Israel and Iran.

In comparison of the first three main Asian space powers, Israel and Iran are a small space players.

Kazakhstan does not have its own rocket technology and hosts the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch facility which is used by Russia under a lease agreement of $150 million annually. Iraq developed and tested the Tammouz space launch vehicle without a satellite on 5 December 1989. According to a press release by the Iraqi News Agency the warhead completed 6 orbits, but this was not confirmed by international observers. North Korea has also claimed to have launched satellites Kwangmyŏngsŏng by its own launchers twice (in 31 August 1988 and in 5 April 2009), however according to international observers those rockets fell into the North Pacific without deploying of satellites in orbit.

South Korea plans to enter the Asian space club in 2009 and Indonesia, Taiwan, Pakistan, Malaysia, Turkey are claimed to have some kind of space program too.

China's first manned spacecraft entered orbit in October 2003, making China the first Asian nation and the third after Soviet Union/Russia and the United States in the world to send a human into space independently.

It is expected that the next nation capable of independent human spaceflight will be India (by 2015). Also, in Asia are nations next in line having plans for independent manned spaceflights: Iran (in 2021) and Japan (in 2025), and the ones having intentions but no plans yet are: North Korea, Malaysia and Turkey.

While the achievements of space programs run by main Asian space players China, India and Japan are modest in comparison to the milestones set by the United States and the former Soviet Union in first space race, some experts believe it may only be a matter of time before Asia leads the field. As for beginning of 21st century, China is the leader in Asia's space race. The first Chinese manned spaceflight in 2003 marked the beginning of a space race in the region. In the same time, the issue of a space race's existence in Asia is still debated. As example, China denies that there is an Asian Space Race.


The motivations behind a new space race include national pride, national security and commercial development.

China, India, Japan, Iran, Turkey have dual-aimed space programs - military and civilian. Because of enemy threat Israel, North Korea and Republic of China (Taiwan) concentrate mainly on military space applications. Programs of South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand are mainly civilian. Indian Space Program was mainly based on developing civilian space applications, but after the launch of its Defence Surveillance Satellite, Radar Imaging Satellite (RISAT-2) and Spy Satellites in 2009 it transformed into a dual-purpose space program.

Some examples. In January 2007 China became the first Asian military-space power to send an anti-satellite missile into orbit to destroy an ageing Chinese Feng Yun 1C in polar orbit weather satellite. As conterpart, month later, Japan's space agency (JAXA) has launched an experimental communications satellite designed to enable super high-speed data transmission in remote areas which would make Japan as high-tech space leader. After successful achievement of geostationary technology, India has launched its first Chandrayaan-1 Moon mission. First Korean astronaut Yi So-yeon spent 11 days aboard the International Space Station in April 2008.

Apart from national pride, there are also commercial motivations. According to a report by the Space Frontier Foundation released in 2006, the "space economy" is estimated to be worth about $180 billion, with more than 60 percent of space-related economic activity coming from commercial goods and services. Now China and India widely proposes the commercial launch service.

Asian national milestones

The Big Three

China's space program has been in the spotlight since 2003, when it started manned space launches. China successfully performed a third in the world EVA in September 2008. Some analysts suggest that the Chinese manned space flight is closely linked to the nation's attempts to develop advanced military technology. As well as national pride there are commercial drivers such as launching of satellites for communications, weather forecast and research of Earth's atmosphere. There are also some concerns among the Asian nations about the militarisation of space. China shocked the world in 2007 when it used a newly developed anti-satellite missile to destroy a defunct weather satellite, the Feng Yun 1-C, orbiting 528 miles (850 km) above Earth. The resulting explosion sent a wave of debris hurtling through space at more than 6 miles per second. On 21 February 2008 the US Navy destroyed a disabled spy satellite USA 193. The US denied the destruction of the satellite was a response to an anti-satellite test carried out by China in 2007.

India's interest in space travel had a modest beginning in the early 1960s, when scientists launched a small rocket above the jungles of Kerala. Now India has its own space launch vehicles, has launched several satellites, sent a probe to the moon and demonstrated re-entry technology. Initially India's space program was not taken as a geopolitical weapon of pride but under Vikram Sarabhai focussed on practical uses of space in increasing standards of living. Thus the impetus was on putting remote sensing and communications satellites into orbit. This has changed in the recent past. The main shifts took place under two administrations. The first was that of Indira Gandhi, when India sent its first human in space, Rakesh Sharma, through Soviet Intercosmos Program. Then there was a long gap before the second shift, which was the first right-wing administration in India under Atal Behari Vajpayee. Just a few days after China said that it would send a human into orbit in the second half of 2003, former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee publicly urged his country's scientists to work towards sending a man to the Moon. Chandrayaan-1, India's first unmanned lunar mission, launched in October 2008. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is planning its 2nd moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, in 2011. India expects a manned space mission by 2015that will make the country a fourth space power.

Japan has been cooperating with the United States on missile defence since 1999. North Korean nuclear and Chinese military programs represent a serious issue for Japan's Foreign relations. Japan is now working on military and civilian space technologies, developing missile defence systems, new generations of military spy satellites, and planning for manned stations on the Moon. Japan started to construct spy satellites after North Korea test fired a Taepodong missile over Japan in 1998, although the North Korean government claimed the missile was merely launching a satellite to space accusing Japan of causing an arms race. The Japanese constitution adopted after World War II limits military activities to defensive operations. On May 2007 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for a bold review of the Japanese Constitution to allow the country to take a larger role in global security and foster a revival of national pride. Japan has not yet developed its own manned spacecraft and has no adopted acting program of developing of one. Some times ago project of Japan space shuttle HOPE-X launched by conventional space launcher H-II was developed during several years but was postponed. Then the more simple manned capsule Fuji was proposed but not adopted. Pioneers projects of single-stage to orbit, reusable launch vehicle horisontal takeoff and landing ASSTS and vertical takeoff and landing Kankoh-maru are exists but not adopted also. More conservative new manned project (JAXA manned spacecraft) is expected to flight within 2025 as part of Japanese plans of manned missions to Moon. But some science journalists are doubtful about the Japanese manned moon project and expect the project is euphemism for participation in American Constellation program, as same as Japanese manned space program such as ISS. On the other hand, Jaxa planned to send a Japanese astronaut as Humanoid robot(such as ASIMO) to the moon.

Other Nations

Indonesia was one of the first Asian countries that began operate the own application (communication) satellite purchased abroad and now intends to join the Asian space powers by developing and starting of use of the own small space launch vehicle Pengorbitan (RPS-420) in 2012-2014.

Iran has developed its own satellite launch vehicle based on Shahab family said to be similar to the DPRK's three stage Taepodong 2 and named as Safir SLV/Kavoshgar-1. On February 2, 2009, Iranian state television reported that Iran's first domestically made satellite Omid (from the Persian امید, meaning "Hope") had been successfully launched into LEO by a version of Iran's Safir rocket, the Safir-2. The launch was made to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. Iran is presently working on the Omid series of indigenous satellites among others. Also, Iranian Space Agency has disclosed its plans for a manned space program intending to put humans in space by 2021.

Israel became the eighth country in the world to build its own satellite and launch it with its own launcher when on September 19, 1988, Israel launched its first satellite, Ofeq-1, using an Israeli-built Shavit three-stage launch vehicle. Since then, local universities, research institutes and private industry, backed by the Israel Space Agency, have made progress in space technology. At the time, the launching was the high point of a process that had begun in 1983, with the establishment of the Israel Space Agency under the aegis of the Ministry of Science. Space research by university-based scientists had already begun in the 1960s, providing a ready-made pool of experts for Israel's foray into space. The agency's role is stated to be for supporting "private and academic space projects, coordinate their efforts, initiate and develop international relations and projects, head integrative projects involving different bodies, and create public awareness for the importance of space development."

North Korea has long-durated experience of rocket technology and years before proliferated it to Pakistan, Iran etc. On 12 March 2009 North Korea signed the Outer Space Treaty and the Registration Convention, after a previous declaration of preparations for a new satellite launch. DPRK twicely announced that launched satellites Kwangmyŏngsŏng-1 at August 31, 1998 and Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2 at April 5, 2009. This claims both times not confirmed in the world, but USA and South Korea estimated ones as tests of military ballistic missile. DPRK has Korean Committee of Space Technology space agency of North Korea, operates the Musudan-ri (Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground) Pongdong-ri (Tongch'ang-dong Space Launch Center) rocket launching sites and developed Baekdusan-1 and Unha (Baekdusan-2) space launchers and Kwangmyŏngsŏng satellites. In 2009 DPRK announced more ambitious future space projects including own manned space flights and development of a manned partially reusable launch vehicle even.

In 1961, a team of Pakistani scientists launched a sounding rocket, named Rehbar-I from the Sonmiani Rocket Range. The launching of the Rehbar-I made Pakistan the third country in Asia and only the tenth in the world in carrying out such a launch. In 1986, Pakistani scientist launched Pakistan's first satellites, called Badr-1 and Badr-B aboard Chinese and Russian rockets. Pakistan currently has one satellite in space PAKSAT-1 which was launched originally by United States for Indonesia and is currently out of service. The Pakistani Space Agency, SUPARCO, is planning its new upgraded communication satellite PAKSAT-IR, which is expected to be launched by 2012 by Chinese.

South Korea is a more new player in the Asian race for space. In August 2006 South Korea launched its first military communications satellite, the Mugunghwa-5 satellite. The satellite was placed in geosynchronous orbit and is able to collect surveillance information on North Korea. The South Korean government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in space technology and is due to launch its first space launcher KSR in 2008. South Korea's space program is justified by its government in terms of long-term commercial benefits and national pride. Seoul has long seen North Korea's significantly longer missile range as a serious threat to its national security. With the nation's first astronaut launched into Space, Lee So-yeon, South Korea gained confidence of entering Asian space race. Currently, the country is completing the construction of Naro Space Center. Once operational, South Korea will be able to build satellites and missiles with local technology. South Korea is pursuing a space program that could defend the peninsula while lessening Seoul's dependency on the United States.

Other "young" space players are Malaysia and Turkey that announced multitask space programs in 2006 and 2007. They intends to develop own satellites and launchers in nearest future and manned space facilities in far future even.

Taiwan tries some space efforts including space launchers. Thailand, Vietnam and some other countries mainly engaged by satellites only.

There have been reports of the two rising Asian powers, China and India's collaboration with EU to challenge American supremacy in space. In 2003 reports emerged that China will invest £140 million in the European Union's Galileo global satellite system and India will invest £210 million in the scheme. However, hopes of India and China working closely on Global Satellite Navigation System were thrashed when Government of India approved the Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System project and signed an agreement with Russia on future development of GLONASS. Also, NASA's involvement in India's lunar mission and several other space-related projects indicates growing collaboration between India and the United States in the field of space exploration.

Major Asian achievements

Timeline of the the national firsts in Asia
Date Nation Name The firsts in Asia World achievements
4 Oct 1957  Kazakhstan Baikonur Cosmodrome Salellite launch pad (under USSR) The first satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched.
11 Feb 1970  Japan Osumi Satellite The smallest satellite launch vehicle (L-4S)
24 Feb 1975  Japan Taiyo Solar probe
26 Oct 1975  China FSW-0 Satellite recovery[37]
8 Jul 1976  Indonesia Palapa A1 Geosynchronous satellite (launched by NASA)
23 Feb 1977  Japan N-I Geosynchronous launch
21 Feb 1979  Japan Hakucho Space observatory
23 Jul 1980  Vietnam Phạm Tuân Asian in space (Soyuz 37)
20 Sep 1981  China FB-1 Simultaneous satellite launch[38]
8 Jan 1985  Japan Sakigake Leaving Earth orbit The first interplanetary launch by solid rocket (M-3SII)
19 Mar 1990  Japan Hagoromo Reach lunar orbit (assumed)
7 Apr 1990  China CZ-3 Commercial launch (AsiaSat 1)
10 Apr 1993  Japan Hiten Intentional lunar impact The first aerobraking test[39]
8 Jul 1994  Japan Chiaki Mukai Asian woman in space (STS-65)
28 Nov 1997  Japan ETS-VII Rendezvous docking
3 Jul 1998  Japan Nozomi Martial mission
30 Oct 2000  China Beidou Satellite navigation system
10 Sep 2002  Japan Kodama Data relay satellite
15 Oct 2003  China Yang Liwei Asian indigenously in space
Shenzhou Manned spacecraft
30 Jul 2005  Japan Soichi Noguchi Spacework (STS-114)
19 Nov 2005  Japan Hayabusa Soft-landed probe on extraterrestrial object The first asteroid ascent
11 Jan 2007  China FY-1C ASAT test highest in history with altitude 865 km, also the fastest with speed 18k miles/h
23 Feb 2008  Japan WINDS Internet satellite The fastest internet satellite[40]
11 Mar 2008  Japan Japanese Experiment Module Manned foundations in space The world’s largest pressurized volume in space[41]
27 Sep 2008  China Zhai Zhigang Indigenous EVA
BanXing Manned spacecraft-launched satellite
14 Nov 2008  India Moon Impact Probe Probe designed for Lunar impact
23 Jan 2009  Japan GOSAT The first greenhouse gas explorer[42]
Other achievements
  • Most numerical multiple-satellite payload transfer capability -  India (PSLV, 10 satellites in one launch) World Record
  • First Asian country to collaborate ISS -  Japan
  • Largest budget for space research -  Japan
  • Low cost money efficient launch capability -  India
  • Most spaceports -  China (5, see spaceport or rocket launch site)
Timeline of the heaviest satellite launch vehicle in Asia
First success LEO GTO / GEO Notes
11 Feb 1970 L-4S (26 kg) First launch was 1966 (failed 4 times).
24 Apr 1970 CZ-1 (0.3 t) First launch failed in 1969.
26 July 1975 FB-1 (2.5 t) Suborbital flight was performed in 1972.
CZ-2A(LEO 2t) failed in 1974.
9 Sep 1975 N-I (GEO 0.13 t) LEO 1.2t
First GTO launch was Feb 23 1977.
11 Feb 1981 N-II (GTO 0.54 t) LEO 2 t
First GTO launch was Aug 10.
8 Apr 1984 CZ-3 (LEO 5 t / GTO 1.5 t) virtually GTO use
First launch failed at Jan 29.
16 Jul 1990 CZ-2E (LEO 9.2 t / GTO 3.5 t)
4 Feb 1994 H-II (LEO 10 t / GTO 3.9 t)
20 Aug 1997 CZ-3B (LEO 12 t / GTO 5.2 t) virtually GTO use
First launch failed in 1996.
18 Dec 2006 H-IIA204 (LEO 15 t / GTO 5.8 t)
planned 2009 H-IIB (LEO 19 t / GTO 8 t)
planned 2015[43] CZ-5 (LEO 25 t / GTO 14 t)

Comparison of Key Technologies

First achieved attempts (or future plans) of each country are listed by chronological order unless otherwise noted.

Manned spacecraft programs
Space shuttle programs
Orbiters to Moon
Intentional Moon landings
  •  Japan - 1993 - Hiten (systematically crashed on end-mission)
  •  India - 2008 - MIP (Moon impactor)
  •  China - 2009 - Chang'e 1 (systematically crashed on end-mission)
Multi-satellite simultaneous launches (by number)
The heaviest satellite launch vehicle in each country (in active, by capacity)
Continuous satellite launch success
  • Only PSLV - 14 times for 15 years (1994 - ongoing)

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