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Posts Tagged ‘China’

Last week, two more Chinese astronauts (or “taikonauts” as they are sometimes known) blasted into space, to spend a month on-board China’s experimental space station Tiangong. They successfully docked with the space station just before 19:30 GMT last Tuesday (18 October). The 30-day stay on the space station will be the longest mission yet undertaken by Chinese astronauts.

This is the latest chapter in an ambitious space programme; China has plans to send manned missions to both the Moon and Mars, although it has not publicly stated a time-line for these two goals. In fact, nothing would boost China’s feeling of becoming the World’s premier superpower than if they were to get to Mars before the USA.

The pace of China’s space programme is impressive. They are spending some US$2.2 billion a year on it, and to-date have sent 11 people into space. They plan to build a permanent space station by 2020, and have already launched 181 satellites into space.

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A summary of some of the key numbers for China’s ambitious space programme.

In 2016 alone it will have launched 20 space missions. I have heard it argued that it is easier for a one-party state like China to achieve ambitious long-term programmes like exploring space than it is for democracies like the US. This is because any programmes suggested and funded in the US can be axed by Congress, or shelved by a new president. Such changes of government do not happen in China. Of course, it is looking increasingly likely that the first US manned mission to Mars will not be undertaken by NASA, but rather by one of the private companies like Space X.

The race is on to get to Mars first, who do you think will be first?

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It was recently announced that the world’s largest radio telescope, built by Chinese scientists, had started its first observations. Its dish is a colossal 500 metres in diameter, dwarfing its nearest counterpart, the Arecibo telescope which has a diameter of 305 metres. Like the Arecibo radio telescope, which is operated by a group which includes the US National Science Foundation, this Chinese telescope is built in a crater. This means that both telescopes are not actually steerable, so observations can only be made of objects which pass within a few tens of degrees of the zenith (directly overhead). The largest steerable telescope remains the 76-metre Lovell telescope run by the University of Manchester [Correction : the largest steerable telescope is the 100-metre Effelsberg telescope In Germany. In fact, the re-built Green Bank telescope in West Virginia is also larger than the Lovell telescope. Thank you Phillip for pointing out my mistake.]

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The world’s largest radio telescope, built by Chinese scientists, has just started observations. The dish is a colossal 500 metres in diameter.

Officially known as the Five hundred metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), this new facility is located in the Guizhou province in southern China.

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The new Five hundred metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) is located in the Guizhou province in southern China.

Like many areas in science, China is making great strides in its observational astronomy capabilities. It has already bought partnerships in a number of the world’s largest visible-light and sub-millimetre telescopes, but this marks its first home-grown world-beating facility. The telescope took five years to build and cost about 180 million US dollars. It will take a few years of testing before it can reach its full scientific potential, but when it does it will be an exciting addition to the world-wide arsenal of current and planned radio telescopes.

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