China-made telescopes race to space
A race into orbit is underway as the government decides which of the country's first two China-made space telescopes is to be launched first.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) announced two firsts yesterday with the successful development of the country's first space solar telescope (SST) and its first hard X-ray modulation telescope.
"The final result of which telescope will be manufactured and launched first and when will be decided in August," said Jin Shengzhen, a researcher with the National Astronomical Observatories of CAS, which is leading SST development.
"Since both projects have gone through years of research and development and boast highly advanced technology, it is only a matter of which goes up first."
Jin said once the government approves the SST project, the launch will probably be in 2010.
The SST will be one metre in diameter, one of the largest of its kind in the world so far, and will be positioned in a Sun-synchronous orbit 730 kilometres from the Earth. Mostly manufactured in the United States, Japan and Europe, existing SSTs are 30 to 40 centimetres in diameter.
The new telescope's resolution ratio will be twice that of the Solar B SST, which is being manufactured by the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom and is expected to be launched next year, Jin added.
Another outstanding feature will be its unique two-dimensional spectral graph, which can "give a more precise analysis of the solar magnetic field - one of the most puzzling areas of physics," Jin said.
With a planned operational life of three years, the SST's mission will be to reveal information about the solar magnetic field, solar gas, solar flares, and other solar activity.
Distinct from the hundreds of orbiting telescopes, China's satellite will work on an "innovative but simpler" system, providing "much clearer images," said Wu Bobing, one of the leading scientists engaged in the institute's research.
The telescope, using the "direct demodulation method," will be less than half the size of its predecessors, cost only one fifth the price and yet provide much better quality images, he said. "Once the State approves the project this year, I believe it can be sent into space in three or four years, at a cost of about 600 million yuan (US$73 million)," Wu said.
"The telescope will have more powerful functions than the Hubble Space Telescope," said an official of the National Astronomical Observatories who gave only his surname, Xue. "It is expected to be put in an orbit four times as far from the Earth as the moon is."
The country is also debating the implementation of its part in the World Space Observatory Project.
(China Daily 07/14/2005 page2)