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Satellite set to rewrite Chinese space history
( 2003-11-20 23:30) (China Daily)

Space scientists in China and Europe will look skywards for their "Christmas presents" this year, with their first satellite under the Double Star Project due for lift-off in late December.

The satellite -- which will study the effects of the Sun on the Earth's environment -- is ready for launch next month, the China National Space Administration said Thursday.

A Long March 3-A carrier rocket blasts off into the sky from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Southwest China's Sichuan Province early Saturday morning, carrying 
Zhongxing-20 communication satellite. It is the fourth launch within a month after China's first manned space flight on Oct. 15 and 16. [Xinhua]

It will fly as far as 66,970 kilometres from the Earth, further than any other in China's space history, according to Liu Zhenxing, chief scientist of the project.

The satellite, codenamed TC-1, is one of two to be sent into orbit under the Sino-European venture.

"The first of the duo geospace exploration satellites and an improved Long March 2C rocket have met all the design requirements and are ready for lift-off,'' said Sun Laiyan, vice-director of the space agency.

Liu said the mission will probe and predict more precisely geospace storms that could threaten spacecraft safety.

Liu proposed the Double Star initiative in 1997. It became a joint project between China's space agency and the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2001, when the two signed an agreement in Paris.

By launching two satellites by mid-2004, Chinese and European scientists hope the Double Star Project will operate alongside four satellites from Cluster II project, which the ESA started in 2000 to study how solar winds affect the Earth.

Solar winds, the perpetual stream of subatomic particles given out by the Sun, can damage satellites and disrupt communications and power systems on Earth, scientists said.

The Europeans provided eight instruments identical to those on the four Cluster spacecraft to the Double Star mission, and will support their operation, said ESA Cluster Project Scientist Philippe Escoubet.

It is the first time European experiments will be carried out on Chinese satellites, according to Liu.

"Double Star will be a major contribution to Cluster and will enhance greatly its scientific output,'' Escoubet said in a telephone interview with China Daily from the Netherlands yesterday.

"With Cluster we have four points to measure the Sun-Earth connection. With Double Star we will have two additional points. We will be able to study the magnetic substorms in great detail -- close to the Earth with Double Star and further away with Cluster.''

The project will enhance both sides' knowledge of the magnetosphere -- the magnetic "bubble'' that surrounds the Earth, Liu and Escoubet said.

Double Star marked the start of collaboration between ESA and China's space agency, according to Escoubet.

Other joint projects launched since then include the Galileo programme, which is the European equivalent of the American Global Positioning System. A special office was created in Beijing for this programme, Escoubet said.

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