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Nation to send solar telescope up to space
Updated: 2004-10-23 00:25

China plans to launch the world's largest and most advanced space solar telescope (SST) into orbit circling the earth in 2008, the State's leading astronomer said on Friday.

Via this telescope, said Ai Guoxiang, who heads the National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese scientists will be able to engage in the study of one of the most difficult global scientific enigmas, or research on solar physical frontiers.

The SST, with a calibre of 1 metre, will be carried into the 735-kilometre-high earth synchronous orbit, Ai, also academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.

The SST will be used to study the solar magnetic field, fine structures of the sun surface, the energy accumulation and release of solar flares and sun-earth interaction, Ai said.

The solar magnetic field, which dominates solar activities, is very hard to be measured. British Journal of Physics listed observation of the solar magnetic field among the four most difficult physical issues of the 21st century, together with quanta gravitation, fusion-related energy and pyro-superconductivity.

Before building space telescopes, global scientists gazed at the sun via earth surface-based telescopes. However, the observation from the earth will be affected by the aerosphere, which makes some key scientific data not so accurate.

Japan and the United States are now jointly developing an SST, coded as SOLAR-B. With a diameter of 0.5 metre, SOLAR-B has half capability in optical resolution than that of the Chinese-made solar telescope.

The scheduled launch of SOLAR-B into space in 2005 has been delayed for some technical reasons, according to sources.

The CAS, who parents are the Observatories and the Chinese Research Institute of Space Technology, have been developing the first Chinese SST since 1992. They include five parts such as main optical telescope, super-ultraviolet telescopes, wide-band spectrograph, helium spectrum telescope and radio spectrograph.

The SST body, costs 80 million yuan (US$9.66 million), and can be used for three years in space.

Jin Shengzhen, principal investigator for the project, said the Chinese SST will be round, with a diameter of 70 kilometres, on the solar surface.

As a fixed star nearest to the earth, the sun is the only source of light and heat for the earth. Scientists regard solar research as the key to unraveling the evolution of the solar system and even the whole cosmos.

Solar research labs in developed countries said Chinese astronomers could take treasured solar data with this ambitious plan.

Experts estimate the total investment into the project at 1 billion yuan (US$120 million). They, however, say it is worthy for improving technologies in remote sensing, global positioning and satellite data processing in China.

The United States, Japan and a few other developed countries launched more than 130 spacecraft in solar observation, 20 out of which are still running in space.

By 2010, the United States plans to tunnel US$1.5 billion, the biggest budgeted in the same period funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, on space solar observation.

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