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China: space instead of socialism


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov)

They say that practice is the only criterion for testing truth, and it works by trial and error. This suggests that the following test may be useful for Russian aerospace. Let us stop, at least for one month, repeating that we are ahead of the entire planet in the space business. Such a simple method may help us to strengthen future Russian-Chinese space relations, because it is highly likely that an agreement on joint space research will be signed at the end of Chinese President Hu Jintao's current visit to Russia.

Our modesty is all the more important because China has never boasted about its space achievements. But it could, and with good reason.

In the opening days of March, China published a plan for space research, listing another manned flight, lunar studies, participation in a Martian program together with Russia, and the development of a Chinese-French mini-satellite for investigating solar activity. Six months ago, the press office of the State Council of China issued a so-called White Paper on the results of China's space program over the past five years and its plans for the immediate future.

China now ranks third in the world in the number of manned missions, after flights in October 2003 and October 2005.

During the past five years, China has successfully launched 24 Changzheng rockets and developed and orbited 22 satellites of different types and versions. The family of Chinese spacecraft, which earlier numbered four series, has now increased to six. These are recoverable remote-sensing satellites, communications satellites, DFH-4 (Dongfanghong, or "The East Is Red") direct broadcasting satellites, FY (Feng Yun or "Wind and Cloud") meteorological satellites of a new series, experimental research satellites, and navigational aids. A new series of sea-monitoring satellites is under development and a project to develop a constellation of small-sized satellites is being stepped up.

Today China is exploiting its own space navigational system based on four Beidou ("Compass") satellites put in a stationary orbit at an altitude of 36,000 km. Beijing has also announced plans to set up its own global satellite navigation system.

To sum up: over the past five years, without much fanfare, China has taken truly cosmic strides. Its plans for the future are also impressive. Speaking in the middle of March, Luan Enjie, one of the directors of the Chinese lunar program, said that a project to develop a heavy launch vehicle was approved last year, and in eight years' time, China would have a launching fleet of 1,060 units, enabling it to corner most of the launch services market.

This business is commercially the most lucrative. But Russia, while it leads in the number of annual launches, making the Russian Space Agency feel proud, does not lead in revenues from those launches. According to the international Satellite Industry Association (SIA), the total earnings of the launch services industry in 2005 rose to $3 billion, with over 50% going to American companies.

According to the January issue of the journal Russian Aerospace Review, "Russia accounts for a mere 11% of the world's space services market which is worth $20 billion."

It is likely that China has made the most of its big neighbor's high technologies. It has only spurned the drum-beating rhetoric of Russia's recent socialist past, which still feels surprisingly at home in Russian aerospace. It might not be a bad idea for us to experiment a bit.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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