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Star Wars Are Waged between China, Japan, and India

Posted September. 15, 2007 05:06,   


Emerging space powers China, Japan, and India are engaged in a fierce competition to explore outer space. These three countries have plans to launch satellites to explore the moon within a year and to land manned spaceships there by 2025.

The U.S. and Russia were locked in a similar race in the 1960’s and are opening up a full-blown era of space exploration by planning to build manned-space stations.

Japan Leading the Moon Exploration Satellite Race –

Japan’s first lunar satellite “Kaguya” was successfully launched yesterday on an H2A rocket at 10:31 a.m. from Japan’s space center on Tanegashima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture, leading the way for a race to explore the moon in Asia. The launch of Kaguya is part of SELENE, the second largest moon expedition project after the Apollo missions in the U.S. in 1969.

According to JAXA, the Japanese equivalent of the NASA, the Kaguya weighs approximately three tons and is embedded with 14 different kinds of observation tools, including UV rays, Gamma sensors, high-vision cameras and two 50-kg daughter satellites that will be detached from the body when it is placed on the moon’s orbit.

The Kaguya will orbit around the moon at approximately an altitude of 100 km for a year from this December, collecting information about the birth and evolution of the planet using observation tools. The high vision camera will allow the satellite to take pictures of the earth, which will appear on the lunar horizon.

The Japanese government has invested some 55 billion yen (about 440 billion won) from 1999 in building rockets and land facilities. With the launch of Kaguya, Japan’s H2A rocket has made a record seven consecutive successful launches.

China Aspiring to Become Space Power -

China gave up the lead to Japan in terms of launching a rocket to the moon, but aspires to be the third strongest space super power following the U.S. and Russia.

China first began its space projects in May 1958. Its first satellite (Dong Pang Hong) launch took place in April 1970; however, it was only in 1992 that China exerted greater efforts to explore space.

By launching successful unmanned and manned spacecraft in November 1999 and October 2003, respectively, China’s technological edge was greatly improved. It plans to launch a satellite “Changeo One” on October 30 this year to explore the surface of the moon, which will be followed by an unmanned spacecraft to the moon in 2012, and a manned spacecraft to the moon in 2017.

Changeo One will orbit around the moon at the altitude of 200 km for a year and will carry out four missions – taking 3D pictures of the moon’s surface, measuring temperatures of the surface and crust, and examining the environment between the earth and the moon.

China plans to explore the planet Mars as well. To realize this vision, it signed a joint exploration agreement with the Russian Federal Space Agency in March. China is planning to have a Russian rocket carry an independently developed explorer and jointly launch it around October 2009.

India’s Controversial Space Exploration Projects –

As a latecomer, India jumped onto the space exploration bandwagon in 1999; however, there is still no public consensus regarding the matter.

More than half of its population lives in abject poverty, and engaging in a competition to explore space with Japan and China, many criticize, is a luxury they cannot afford. Many are saying that money spent on space, should be invested instead in building schools and hospitals. Still, India is as ambitious as its competitors in this field. After its first successful satellite launch in 1980, which was followed by a commercial satellite this April, India is planning to launch its moon explorer “Chandrayan One” next April.

Weighing 525 kg, Chandrayan One is embedded with X-ray spectroscopes, X-ray solar observation tools and a 20 kg landing gear. It will orbit around the moon at the altitude of 100 km, examine the surface in an attempt to find traces of water and send images and other data back to Earth.

It is planning to send a manned spacecraft in 2015 and send a manned spaceship in 2020, which will cost India 1.5 billion dollars total.

Race to Secure Natural Resources –

While the race for exploring the moon between the former Soviet Union and the U.S. in the 1960’s was to show off their technical prowess and national strength, today it has become a race to explore and secure possible natural resources on the moon.

Countries are seeking the possibility of natural resources that are rare or that may not be found on Earth. This goal is shared also by the U.S. and Russia, which are trying to establish manned space stations between 2020 and 2032 even they already have had success in sending spacecrafts there three decades ago. These countries have the bold plan of opening up a space resource era after exploring natural resources on Mars based on experience acquired from their moon exploration projects.

orionha@donga.com sya@donga.com