China on September 14 began building a space launch center on tropical Hainan Island and continued to construct the foundations for the nation's sophisticated space program.
LAYING A FOUNDATION: Workers at the Hainan Space Launch Center lay a cornerstone to commemorate the start of construction on September 14 (GUO CHENG)
The Hainan Space Launch Center, located in Wenchang City, is China's fourth and most southerly. It was approved by the State Council and the Central Military Commission in 2007 and is expected to be complete in 2013. The center will be capable of launching 10 to 12 space vehicles a year, said Wang Weichang, Director of the Hainan Space Center Project Headquarters.
The current three launch centers, in Gansu Province's Jiuquan, Sichuan Province's Xichang and Shanxi Province's Taiyuan, are located in China's interior.
The center in Hainan will handle next-generation space vehicles and rockets, including geo-synchronous, polar-orbiting and deep-space exploration satellites and space stations, Wang said at the center's cornerstone-laying ceremony.
He said the space center's construction shows that China is entering a new stage of building environmentally friendly launch sites.
Future manned flights into space will be launched mostly from Hainan, with a few blasting off from northwest China's Gansu Province, he said.
Sichuan Province's Xichang launch center will be Hainan's backup, said Zhang Ping, Deputy Director of the Hainan headquarters.
He said the Hainan site would be more convenient than the other three existing launch centers and will be able to handle more payloads. It will also cost less to launch vehicles from Hainan.
The current three launch centers use railways to transport rockets to their launch pads.
Because of the limitations imposed by railway tunnels, China's current launch vehicles tend to be tall and slim, said Pang Zhihao, a researcher and Deputy Editor in Chief of the monthly magazine Space International.
The new launch center is accessible from the sea and will be able to accept much larger vehicles that have more power and bigger payloads.
"In the future, domestic rockets could be short and stout, which will make them easier to control in flight and, therefore, more reliable," Pang said.
The new launch center's location just 19 degrees north of the equator is also beneficial. Pang said rockets blasting off so close to the equator can carry heavier payloads because they can use the Earth's rotation to assist their ascent.
Long Lehao, an expert on the Long March series of rockets, said a vehicle lifting off from Hainan would be able to carry 7.4 percent more than one lifting off from Xichang launch center, which is 27 degrees north of the equator. With China's current rockets, that would mean carrying 300 kg more in cargo.
"This will enable China to take part in more international commercial space launches," Wang said.
Current Three Space Launch Bases
There are three space launch bases currently operating in China—in Gansu Province's Jiuquan, Sichuan Province's Xichang and Shanxi Province's Taiyuan.
The country began building its first launch pad in Jiuquan in 1958. Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center has become the nation's only manned-spacecraft launch center since the Shenzhou-5 blasted off there in October 2003.
The Taiyuan center launched the country's first meteorological satellite, Fengyun-1A, in September 1988. The center, founded in March 1966 and put into operation in 1968, is capable of launching satellites into both medium and low orbits. It has successfully launched eight types of satellites into space, including meteorological satellites, iridium communication satellites for Motorola and earth resources satellites. It is hemmed in by mountains on all sides and stands at an elevation of 1,500 meters.
The Xichang Satellite Launch Center is designed mainly to launch powerful thrust rockets and geo-stationary satellites. Also at an average elevation of 1,500 meters, the center is known for its agreeable weather and picturesque scenery. On July 16, 1990, China's first Long March CZ- 2 strap-on launch vehicle successfully blasted off from Xichang and sent an experimental Pakistani scientific satellite and a Chinese satellite into orbit.
(Source: Xinhua News Agency)