Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Wednesday, October 20, 1999 Published at 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK


Intriguing details of Chinese space plans

This rocket could launch Chinese astronauts

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

Probably more by accident than intent, conflicting signals are coming out of China and Russia about China's plans for a manned space programme.

Confirming what many experts already know, and what BBC News Online has already reported, Russia has said it is ready to co-operate with China on its first manned space mission.

According to the Interfax news agency, discussions between the two countries are already underway. Pictures smuggled out of China show that the capsules being developed are based very closely on the highly successful Russian "Soyuz" design.

Interfax reports that the director of the Russian Space Agency, Yuri Koptev, and Russian vice premier, Ilya Klebanov, first brought up the possibility of helping the Chinese with their space projects at the end of August, during a meeting of the joint commission formed to strengthen Sino-Russian ties.

Observers point out, however, that extensive behind-the-scenes co-operation has already taken place with two Chinese cosmonauts having undergone training at the cosmonaut-training centre at Star City just outside Moscow.

Interfax reports that China's first manned space flight is scheduled for the beginning of next year. Many western observers doubt that China will be able to achieve this.

Moon and Mars

Confusing the situation even more is a report issued on Wednesday from China that says it is preparing furiously for its first manned space mission and has already set its sights on landings on the Moon and on the planet Mars. The report came from the Shanghai News.

It says that a recent national conference of space scientists, held in Beihai city in Guangxi province, set the landings as the "two big targets" for the country's space programme in the 21st Century.

[ image: Shanghai News talks about missions to the Moon and Mars]
Shanghai News talks about missions to the Moon and Mars
"Chinese scientists are in the process of discussing details of the lunar landing (project)," Ye Zili, the China Space Science Association's general secretary, was quoted as saying.

He said dozens of plans and proposals for the twin projects had already been put forward. The language of the report left it unclear whether the missions under discussion would be manned or not, but Ye cited the goal of "opening up the Moon's resources".

That mixed messages seem to be coming out of China is not really surprising given the secrecy which normally surrounds the country's space programme.

China's real intentions are confused with speculation by scientists who can be misunderstood by both China's internal press and the western media. Most observers with a realistic understanding of China's technical capabilities do not expect it to put a man into orbit until around 2005.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Sci/Tech Contents

Relevant Stories

05 Oct 99 | Sci/Tech
China plans new space base

10 Jun 99 | Sci/Tech
China's secret manned spacecraft revealed

13 May 99 | Sci/Tech
China to test 'space shuttle' in October

26 Feb 99 | Sci/Tech
Chinese manned spaceflight probable

11 Feb 99 | Sci/Tech
China plans space shuttle launch

Internet Links

China Great Wall Industry Corporation

Chinese Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology

Go Taikonauts!

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

World's smallest transistor

Scientists join forces to study Arctic ozone

Mathematicians crack big puzzle

From Business
The growing threat of internet fraud

Who watches the pilots?

From Health
Cold 'cure' comes one step closer