China broke new ground in the domain of space science with its successful launch of a rocket from a ship at sea on Wednesday, making it be the very first launch of this kind. This successful feat takes China one big step ahead in its volley of enterprising and ambitious space programs.
As reported by Reuters and the state media, the Long March 11 rocket set off from a platform on a large semi-submersible barge in the Yellow Sea just after midday (0400 GMT), and the rest is history. The rocket is a small one, configured for a smooth and speedy launch from mobile sites such as a ship and carried 7 satellites, including one for forecasting typhoons by measuring sea-surface winds.
Moreover, the rocket also carried 2 communications satellites belonging to China 125 (a Beijing-based technology company with its global mission to launch many satellites to provide global data networking services) which is expected to bolster the satellite communication nexus around the world.
China has progressed steadily from being a contender in space to the world’s 3rd largest space power and has prioritized its space program in its mission to step up to become a major space power by 2030. In view of the same, Beijing plans to begin construction of its own manned space station next year, which is another remarkable positive for its space mission.
On the downside, the U.S. Defense Department has accused China of pursuing activities aimed at obstructing other nations from utilizing space-based assets during a crisis but China has proclaimed that the space activities are totally peaceful. In this context, one should not lose sight of the fact that like most national space programs (the U.S. being a forerunner in the same), China’s space program was guided by the nuclear arms race and the competition to get to that space in the World War II era and after being shadowed by the United States and the Soviet Union for a few decades, China assumed its own agency, setting its own goals to become a bonafide space power. The ‘economic miracle’ that took place since the turn of the century has helped elevate China’s space program and its presence in space significantly.
In 2019, China has started reviewing preliminary studies for a crewed lunar landing mission (planned to take place in the 2030s) and is cooperating with international partners to build an outpost near the lunar south pole ( in line with the proposed International Moon Village), aimed at gaining new heights in space science. By the 2020s and 2030s, China hopes to successfully carry out crewed exploration missions to the Moon and robotic missions to Mars.
If all goes as per plan, this could open up avenues of crewed mission to Mars in 2040s to 2060s! What with the launch of the first ever rocket from ship at sea, both the future possibilities of China’s space programs and the horizon of space science as a whole looks bright as never before.