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Earth to space, firms add value by innovating technology

By Cheng Yu | China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-30 09:03
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China's Shenzhou XIV astronauts Chen Dong (right) and Liu Yang exit the space station lab module Wentian on Sept 1, and use a robotic arm to install new instruments outside the Tiangong space station. This photo has been inverted top to bottom. [Photo by Xu Bu/For China Daily]

It's easy for consumers to buy food and beverages like, say, a bowl of hot rice and mineral water online or from neighborhood shops, but for astronauts such things are, rather were, luxury goods.

Crew members of China's Shenzhou manned space flight last year, however, were able to enjoy such F&B, thanks to Joyoung, a Chinese home appliance firm. Joyoung innovated its technologies to create an improbable space kitchen for the astronauts. A drinking water dispenser, an air heater and a soybean milk maker were all accessible in the kitchen through a smart app.

There was more consumer tech customized for the spacecraft. A vacuum cleaner enabled haircuts by generating negative pressure that sucked in the cut hair so it would not float about or enter nooks or crevices.

China's private sector is growing in significance, emerging from the long shadow of State-owned enterprises that dominated business and industry for decades. Private enterprises are now using their latest technologies to contribute to even major national projects. What's more, they are also helping the country make technological advance.

The tone-setting Central Economic Work Conference in mid-December underscored that it is important to work unswervingly both to consolidate and develop the public sector and to encourage, support and guide the development of the private sector.

In fact, from small private businesses in provinces like Zhejiang and cities like Shenzhen, Guangdong province, to internet enterprises leading global technological advances, China's private sector has become home to various pioneers that help spur economic growth and innovative development both at home and abroad.

In recent years, they have contributed about 50 percent of the country's tax revenue, 60 percent of GDP, 70 percent of technological innovation and 80 percent of urban employment, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Tang Hongbo, who was part of the Shenzhou manned spacecraft crew, said in a news briefing that during his three-month trip, he could eat hot food with just half-hour efforts, a contrast to the past when similar attempts required several hours.

"If we had time, we would also use customized devices to eat homemade yogurt. We could also control those intelligent devices in the space kitchen through mobile phone apps," he said.

In the past, most aerospace foods were packed in aluminum foil, so they couldn't be directly heated in a microwave oven. Conduction devices often caused uneven heating. An astronaut had to spend as long as four hours to heat some vegetables in the space kitchen.

To solve the problem, Joyoung developed a device that pumps out hot air to heat vegetables in a 360-degrees way. The gadget enables astronauts to eat even steaming-hot fish-flavored shredded pork and Gongbao chicken, a spicy, stir-fried Chinese dish.

Besides Joyoung, a group of private enterprises, including Xiaomi Corp and Huawei Technologies, have contributed their technologies to the development of the space station.

NOLO VR, a Chinese virtual reality manufacturer, has helped astronauts develop an experimental device through which laboratory technicians on the ground can see and experience vividly what astronauts are doing in the space.

Wang Peng, an associate professor at the Hillhouse Research Institute of the Renmin University of China in Beijing, said, "China's technological prowess will continue to play a big role if private and smaller businesses remain sound, given that many of them are increasingly being recognized for their role as leaders in new concepts and new business models."

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