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China's Space Industry Takes off

China put another two satellites into orbit on Wednesday, just weeks after its third successful manned space mission and the first space walk by Chinese astronauts in September.

The space industry is taking off, thanks to the 30-year-old Reform and Opening-up Drive, said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the manned space program.

China established its space sector in the 1950s, an era of difficulty and hardship.

It wasn't until 1960 that China was able to launch its first domestic liquid-fuelled rocket from a primitive facility that resembled an ancient winch.

In the intervening years, the space sector developed slowly because of financial constraints and political turmoil, particularly the catastrophic Cultural Revolution (1966-76). During that period, there were five space launches.

In 1978, when China opened up to the outside world, Chinese scientists were surprised to learn how far they lagged other space-faring countries.

In 1986, the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee held a special conference to approve a national scheme for high-tech development, known as the "863 Plan". A special fund of 4 billion yuan (worth about US$584 million at present exchange rates) was allocated to accelerate the development of the space industry.

In 1992, a manned space program was launched, along with a "three-step" strategy. The first phase of the manned space program will cost some 20 billion yuan.

China's steady growth and expanding wealth provide a strong material foundation for the development of the country's space industry.

To date, China has achieved 112 launches of Long March rocket carriers, including 107 launches since 1978, according to Ma Xingrui, general manager of the China Aerospace Space and Technology Corp. (CASC).

Over the past 30 years, China has launched more than 110 satellites and sent seven spacecraft into outer space, developed 14 types of Long March rocket, made major breakthroughs in satellite technology and sent six astronauts into orbit on board three Shenzhou spacecraft.

China has also utilized many space technologies in its industrial, agricultural and tertiary sectors, and nearly 80 percent of new materials developed by Chinese scientists were first used in the space sector. So far, almost 2,000 space-related inventions have been used in other sectors.

Long March rockets have put 35 satellites from 13 countries or regions into orbit over 29 launches. Long March has become a renowned name in the international space market.

(Xinhua News Agency November 6, 2008)

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