The ancient Chinese have contributed many things to science. People have applied the ideas and information the Chinese came up with to create better technology. For example, the Chinese made an early form of a rocket, and using those early ideas we are capable of launching people into space, and even landing on the moon. Because the actual Chinese space program did not form until the founding of the People's Republic of China, they have been taking steps to close the gap between them, the Russians and the Americans. Currently, the Chinese have made it a goal to revisit the Moon.

Ancient China

Early Astronomy

The Chinese made advancements in astronomy by having the first recorded observation of comets, solar eclipses and supernovae. Early Chinese advancements also included the first supernova that was recorded by Chinese astronomer Shen Kuo(1031-1095). He theorized that the Sun and Moon were spherical, corrected the position of the polestar with his improved sighting tube, discovered the concept of true north, wrote of planetary motions such as retrogradation, and compared the orbital paths of the planets to points on the shape of a rotating willow leaf. All of his ideas were recorded in his famous writing Dream Pool Essays.


Another important contribution from the Chinese is gunpowder. The ancient gunpowder was made with three major ingredients: saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal. Saltpeter is known today as potassium nitrate. The charcoal was used because of its carbon. Gunpowder was discovered by the West in the late twelfth century. By that time, the Chinese had already developed and perfected its use.

"Fire Arrows"


In the mid-eleventh to twelfth century, the Chinese built the earliest form of a rocket, called "fire arrows". A "fire arrow" was a firework with an iron weight fixed on the rear to prevent the top from tipping down and flying back towards the ground. The Chinese used a solid propellant, which was solid gunpowder, to fill a tube. Then, a hole was drilled through the gunpowder so that when it burned, it had equal areas of combustion surface along the internal cavity. By 1300 (at the latest), the Chinese tweaked the rocket by constricting the opening of the tube to increase the flow-velocity of the issuing gases. This refinement gave it more power and made it go a longer distance. These rockets could fly within 500 to 1150 yards.

Hmmm...Interesting: It is reported that around the year 1500 AD, a Chinese man named Wan Hoo had 47 black powder rockets attached to his sedan chair. He had 47 servants ignite the rockets at the same time. Wan Hoo was never seen again.

Chinese Space Program


Although the Chinese were the first to master gunpowder and the rocket, the space program of China began shortly after the founding of People’s Republic of China in 1956. Cooperating with the Soviet Union, China continued with their nuclear deterrent program after the Sino-Split in 1960. China became part of the space race in order to defeat nuclear blackmail from the United States that only China’s future nuclear arsenal could counterattack. China’s space program eventually covered anti-ballistic missile system, anti-satellite weaponry, reconnaissance and intelligence satellites, manned spacecrafts, space laboratories, space stations and space planes, culminating after the Cold War with plans for Moon bases and space exploration.

The Beginning

On May 15, 1958, Chairman Mao adopted "Project 581" with the intention to make China equal to the superpowers in the world. It started with building a missile test base, called Base 20, in April 1958. It was ready for use in October 20, 1958. The first Chinese missile was also built during that month. Chairman Mao wanted to launch a large satellite into orbit by 1959. In order to get to that level, the Chinese wanted to develop sound rockets, then launch small satellites to finally be able to launch a larger one and keep it in orbit.

As the United States and the Soviet Union were competing to see who could reach the moon first, Chairman Mao and Zhou Enlai decided on July 14, 1967 that the People’s Republic of China could not be left behind. Because of that, China’s first space craft, Shuguang-1, was specially designed for manned spaceflight in January 1968. China’s Space Medical Institute and the Central Military Commission began to conduct space medical research and began the process of selecting astronauts, or Taikonauts. Unfortunately, because of financial and political problems, Shuguang was cancelled on May 13, 1972. The space craft was never built.

Present Day


The China National Space Administration has the following responsibilities: signing governmental agreements in the space area on behalf of organizations, inter-governmental scientific and technical exchanges; and also being in charge of the enforcement of national space policies and managing the national space science, technology and industry. China has signed governmental space cooperation agreements with Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, India, Italy, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States and some other countries. The CNSA has four departments: Department of General Planning, Department of System Engineering, Department of Science, Technology and Quality Control, and the Department of Foreign Affairs. The State Council appoints the Administrator of CNSA. Sun Laiyan has been the administrator of CNSA since 2004.


Man-Made Satellites

Dongfanghong-I (The East is Red-I), China's first man-made satellite, successfully launched on April 24, 1970. This made China the fifth country in the world to accomplish this feat. By October 2000, China has developed and launched 47 satellites with a 90% flight success rate. It is the third country in the world to have mastered satellite recovery technology, and it is also the fifth country capable of independently developing and launching geo-stationary telecommunications satellites.

Launching Vehicles

The "Long March" rocket group was also developed independently by the Chinese. They contained 12 types of launching vehicles capable of launching satellites to near-earth, geo-stationary and sun-synchronous orbits. The largest launching capacity of the "Long March" rockets has reached 9,200 kg for near-earth orbit, and 5,100 kg for geo-stationary transfer orbit. Since they were able to meet the demands of all kinds of customers, the Chinese government put the "Long March" rockets in the international commercial launching market. China has launched 27 foreign-made satellites since 1985. From October 1996 to October 2000, the "Long-March" rockets have accomplished 63 launches, and made 21 consecutive successful flights. As of March 2015, there have been 225 Long March missions.

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Manned Spaceflights

China's First Spacewalk

China's manned spaceflight program was initiated in 1992. In order to prepare, China developed a manned spacecraft and high-reliability launching vehicle, carried out engineering studies in aerospace medicine and aerospace life science, selected reserve astronauts and developed equipment for aerospace remote-sensing and aerospace scientific experiments before launching vehicles into space. The first unmanned experimental spacecraft, Shenzhou, was successfully launched and recovered in November 1999. The Chinese developments continued. On September 25, 2008, China's third manned spacecraft (Shenzhou VII) carried three Chinese astronauts into space. The three-day mission included plans for China's first space walk and to retrieve a rack attached to the outside of an orbital module. Commander Zhai Zhigang remained outside for about 13 minutes in space.

Russia and the United States (NASA) conducted their first space walks in 1965 and the U.S. put a man on the moon for the first time in 1969. China is only the third nation to launch a man into space.

Shenzhou was a part of Project 921. After its success, phase 2 of the project was initiated in 1999. Phase 2 would focus on an 8-metric ton manned 'space lab' orbiting the earth. Basically, they plan it to be like a mini-International Space Station. Announced as of 2007, Shenzhou 8 and 9 would be equipped with two docking ports and launched in 2010. The unmanned Shenzhou 8 launched in 2011, while the unmanned Shenzhou 9 launched in 2012. The Shenzhou 10, also manned, launched in 2013, which was used to operate the station for a brief period. Other space station modules are expected to launch in the near future. The Tiangong-2 is now expected to launch later in 2016 while the Tiangong-3 is expected to launch in 2022. The Chinese large modular space station (Tiangong Space Station) is planned to launch around 2020.


Launching Sites

China has four launching sites: Jiuquan, Xichang, Taiyuan, and Wenchang. They are capable of making both domestic satellite launches and international commercial launches, and carrying out international space cooperation in other fields.

  • Jiuquan - China's first launch center, the first launch occurred in 1970. All recoverable satellites and most science satellites are launched from here, but since 1999, they have a new launch pad and a vertical assembly building for manned flight.
  • Xichang - It's first launch was in 1984. It is used for GTO (Geo-stationary Transfer Orbit) launches. All GEO commercial satellites are launched from Xichang. It is also the only place in China that supports cryogenic stage.
  • Taiyuan - With its first launch in 1988, it is used for SSO or polar orbit launches.
  • Wenchang - It is the former sub-orbital test center located on Hainan Island. The construction of this facility was approved in 2007 and completed in 2014. The test center's first launch was in 1988.


Control Centers

  • Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center - It is responsible for organizing, commanding, and dispatching space flight test tasks. It is also responsible for engineering TT&C (Telemetry, Tracking and Control), the management of launch vehicle, and spacecraft space flight test tasks.
  • Xi'an Satellite Control Center - It manages China's spacecraft TT&C network which consists of the command and control center, fixed and mobile stations, instrumentation ships and re-entry instrumentation airplanes, and tracks and controls all of China's domestic satellites.

Research and Engineering Facilities Available

  • Wind Tunnel Facility
Subsonic wind tunnels
Transonic wind tunnel (1.2m)
Supersonic wind tunnel (2.4m)
Hypersonic wind tunnel (1.0m)
High frequency plasma wind tunnel
Shockwave wind tunnel (2.0m)
  • Thermal Vacuum Chamber - The construction was completed in late 1997. It is the largest one in Asia.
  • Engine Testbed
Multi-usage Engine Testbed
Large Engine Testbed
Cryogenic Engine Testbed
Simulated High Altitude Testbed
  • Full Scale Rocket Vibration Tower
  • Beijing Emulation Center - Consisting of 11 Test Workshops, they are capable of doing mathematical system emulation or half-real system emulation for rocket development.
  • Centrifuge - Used for astronaut training, it is the largest in Asia.
  • Other research facilities
Large Vertical Dynamic Equilibrator
Microwave Dark Rooms
Full Scale Rocket Test Firing Platform
Large Impact Testbed

Launches, Launch Vehicles, Satellites

Launch of Shenzhou VII


Total launches-98
Orbited launches-89
Successful launches-85
Failed launches-9
Partial failed launches-4
Commercial launches-22
Payload launched-109
GEO payload-27
SSO payload-14


Total satellites launched-45
Communication satellites-11
Meteorological satellites-4
Earth Resource Satellites-1
Recoverable Satellites-17
Technical/Engineering Test Satellites-7
Science Satellites-8


Like the Russians call their astronauts Cosmonauts, a Taikonaut is a Chinese astronaut. It is the combination of the word "Taikong", meaning space or cosmos in Mandarin, and "-naut". Most of the Taikonauts were formally in the PLAAF, the People's Liberation Army Air Force. It's basically China's air force.

1971 Shuguang Group

China approved the "Project 714" on July 14, 1970 to develop the Shuguang manned spacecraft, to be launched in 1973. CANCELLED on May 13, 1972.

  • Chai Hongliang-PLAAF pilot
  • Du Jincheng-PLAAF squadron commander
  • Dong Xiaohai-PLAAF squadron commander
  • Fang Guojun-PLAAF regiment commander
  • Hu Zhanzi-PLAAF pilot
  • Li Shichang-PLAAF regiment deputy-party-commissar
  • Liu Chongfu-PLAAF squadron commander
  • Liu Zhongyi-PLAAF pilot
  • Lu Xiangxiao-PLAAF squadron commander
  • Ma Zizhong-PLAAF regiment deputy-party-commissar
  • Meng Senlin-PLAAF squadron commander
  • Shao Zhijian-PLAAF regiment commander
  • Wang Fuhe-PLAAF pilot
  • Wang Fuquan-PLAAF deputy regiment commander
  • Wang Quanbo-PLAAF squadron commander
  • Wang Rongsen-PLAAF deputy division commander
  • Wang Zhiyue-PLAAF pilot
  • Zhang Ruxiang-PLAAF regiment commander

1996 Shenzhou Trainer Group

China started the "Project 921" manned space program in September 21, 1992. According to the agreement with Russian government in 1993, China sent two candidates to Russia's Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City in October 1996. They returned to China after one year of training. The two candidates later became trainers in China's own training program. The trainer-Taikonaut selection began in November 1995 and completed in 1996.

  • Li Qinglong
  • Wu Jie

1998 Shenzhou Group

To prepare the planned Shenzhou manned space flight, Taikonaut selection began in end of 1995. In January 1998, the 12-Taikonaut group was established. In March, 1998, two trainer Taikonauts joined the group.

  • Chen Quan-PLAAF Regiment commander
  • Deng Qingming
  • Fei Junlong-PLAAF pilot
  • Jing Haipen
  • Liu Boming
  • Liu Wang
  • Nie Haisheng-Lieutenant colonel. One of the backup crew of the historic Shenzhou 5 mission.
  • Pan Zhanchun
  • Yang Liwei-Lieutenant colonel. On October 15, 2003, Yang Liwei became the first Chinese citizen in space after the historic 21 hours 23 minutes Shenzhou 5 flight.
  • Zhai Zhigang-Lieutenant colonel. One of the backup crew of the historic Shenzhou 5 mission.
  • Zhang Xiaoguan
  • Zhao Chuandong

Shenzhou VII Crew Returning (L-R: Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming, and Jing Haipeng)


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