Brave Bulletin
Black Line Volume 6
September 15, 2004
No. 4
Black Line
Black Line


Curtis interviewed for story on Chinese space program

Tony CurtisA news story based on an interview with Dr. Tony Curtis (Mass Communications) has appeared in print and electronic media outlets around the world. The story originated from the Beijing bureau of Reuters news service and was picked up by worldwide media.

The article is about China’s brief opening to the foreign press of its super-secret Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the nation's remote Gansu province.

Journalists from Reuters’ Beijing bureau, preparing for their rare glimpse of the desert launch pads, asked Dr. Curtis to comment from his post as editor of Space Today Online.

“The base has been used since the 1960s to launch a variety of important space
projects including recoverable Earth observation satellites, microgravity missions, and the manned flight last year,” Dr. Curtis told Reuters. “However, most Chinese commercial space flights take off from other spaceports.”

“The capsules and rockets for piloted space flights are assembled at sites around Beijing, then shipped nine hours by train to the Jiuquan site in the Gobi Desert,” Dr. Curtis said.

The professor pointed out that launches and landings from Jiuquan usually occur during northern hemisphere autumn and winter months because the seas are calmer for China’s tracking ships stationed on oceans around the world.

“The next step for China in space is to send up one of their Shenzhou capsules with more than one person aboard,” Dr. Curtis said. “After that, they will want to send up two Shenzhou capsules to practice docking them with each other in space.”

The professor recalled that China purchased a space docking system from Russia. That hardware would allow two spacecrafts to come together in space, suggesting an orbital docking by two ships. Such a docking could involve two Shenzhou capsules, or a capsule and a space station.

“I understand the Chinese are preparing a much larger version of their Long March rocket to lift 70 metric tons of payload to Earth’s orbit,” Dr. Curtis said. “That might be sufficient capacity to send a space station into orbit or a satellite out to the Moon.”

China has the technology for an unmanned lunar probe. For instance, a probe to map the Moon from orbit could be built by modifying hardware from one of the nation's Dongfanghong communications satellites. Such a Moon probe might be launched from China's Xichang Space Launch Center, the professor noted.

“They surely could, if they wished, send a satellite out to orbit the Moon or to circle around the Moon and return to Earth,” Dr. Curtis said.

China had said it wanted to be able to launch both a manned space station and a man to the Moon. Later, they publicly shelved the plan for the human landing on the lunar surface for financial reasons. Even if the larger rocket under development is completed, China still would have to design and build a complex system capable of landing a human being on the lunar surface and then taking off from the Moon for the return to Earth.

“Shelving the Moon landing makes sense,” Dr. Curtis said, “because both projects -- a Moon landing and a space station -- would be very large, expensive, long-term commitments.”

“They may want their own space station for military reasons, while they might join the international community in manned trips to the Moon and beyond,” he said. “Sending things to land on the Moon and return from the Moon are big projects.”

“The international community is interested in the Moon and Mars for mining and other commercial opportunities,” Dr. Curtis said. “China would find very little short-term military value in landing someone on the Moon.”

The September article quoting Dr. Curtis may be read online at numerous media sites including Reuters, Yahoo news, CNN, MSNBC and ABC: