By Hu Weijia
Eight hours before the launch of China’s largest and most powerful carrier rocket, the Long March-5, I felt a little surprised when I saw almost all the personnel with the rocket’s research team pray for good luck by eating steamed stuffed buns. The Chinese word for steam is “zhengqi,” which is also a homophone for “strive to bring honor.” The Long March-5 is equipped with a total 247 new technologies, something that made the research team understandably a little nervous.
Observers may have noticed that China has sped up its development of space technology. Just nearly two months ago, the country launched its second space lab, Tiangong-2. This acceleration in the nation’s aerospace industry has limited the ability of Chinese researchers to make the necessary preparations for ensuring successful launches.
While at the Wenchang launch center in South China’s Hainan Province, I could easily feel the tension as the launch of the Long March-5 was postponed last Thursday night due to a small mechanical problem with the rocket’s first-class rocket booster. A staff member told me the plan to launch the rocket on November 3 would be cancelled if they didn’t solve the problem before 8:30 pm, the last available window Thursday to send the satellite into orbit.
It is difficult to imagine the tremendous pressure on the team behind China’s Long March series. The high divorce rate among senior personnel is testament to the stress the project put on their personal lives. Hearing stories like this, I asked myself, “why is China in such a rush to develop its space technology?”
Those in the space sector may have the answer. According to industry insiders, a turning point for the development of China’s space technology was in 1999 when three Chinese journalists were killed in a NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in former Yugoslavia.
Space and missile technology to some extent are two sides of the same coin. For instance, spacecraft control technologies can be applied to guidance systems for ballistic missiles.
The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, the department behind the Long March-5, is also an important research and development base for missiles and related weaponry. Teams working on bringing certain military technologies to civilian sectors at one time performed better than those developing weapons exclusively for the military.
However, following the bombing of the Chinese embassy, the government rolled out measures to reinvigorate the once sluggish military complex.
China is aware of the need to speed up its development of military and aerospace technologies. With the successful launch of Long March-5, China’s level of space technology reached international standards after nearly 50 years of development, especially in the last decade. Its success has provided a rare and up-close look at the country’s missile technology. China demonstrated different missiles at the just-concluded Airshow China, including its M20, which has proven effective in countering missile defense systems.
However, the missile technologies displayed at the air show are just the tip of the iceberg. As one researcher told me, people are overestimating the capabilities of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense THAAD missile system in South Korea.
The rise of China’s military strength is in accordance with the development of the country’s aerospace industry. As China’s space technologies continue to gain prominence, so does its defense ability.
The author is a reporter with the Global Times. email@example.com
China’s defense ability boosted by rocketry
By Hu Weijia