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Spratlys > News > English News > June 2005

Category: @News

China Mulls New Southern Space Port

by Edward Lanfranco
Beijing (UPI) June 21, 2005
Chinese officials are in the early planning stages to set up a satellite launch center in the south of the country, state-run media reported Tuesday.
The leading candidate for the country's fourth satellite launch center is Wenchang, a city on Hainan Island, the China Daily said. A preliminary feasibility report made by provincial authorities was approved by an unidentified expert panel.

An official from the local commission for development and reform called the project "a long-term blueprint," and was quoted as saying, "There is still a long way to go before the central government finalizes the proposal."

Hainan has not yet offered the report to the National Development and Reform Commission, the official said. The NDRC must also endorse the plan before sending it to the State Council (China's cabinet) for a final decision.

Cao Yushu, a deputy secretary general with the NDRC in Beijing, declined to comment on the project. China's National Space Administration and the state-owned DFH Satellite also declined to comment.

The expert panel mentioned in government-controlled media is reported to be actively pushing forward the proposed project, which could reduce the cost of launching satellites.

China has three major rocket launch sites, all located between 28 and 41 degrees of latitude north of the equator. The southernmost site is Xichang in Sichuan province.

The launch center in Taiyuan Shanxi province is near the 38th parallel while Jiuquan, which straddles the border between Gansu and Inner Mongolia, is the northernmost launch pad.

Zhang Yanzhong, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told Chinese reporters "Hainan is an ideal location." Zhang said launching Earth-synchronous satellites from space centers closer to the equator was more cost effective than those from higher latitudes.

The Chinese are working closely with the ESA on the Galileo global positioning system as a commercial alternative to America's GPS orbital dominance.

No estimates are available on the range of missions made possible from a Wenchang launch site (slightly south of latitude 20 degrees north) nor of the cost to establish the spaceport.

Defense analysts will surely take note of the implications a Wenchang launch site will have on China's missile defense and electronic early-warning system capabilities in the South China Sea.

This body of water, important for sea lanes and resources, has been a potential flash point since the People's Republic of China claims all of the Spratley (Xisha) and Paracel (Nansha) islands within its confines. There are territorial disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Taiwan over these low atolls.

Moreover, the South China Sea was scene of the collision between a Chinese Air Force interceptor and an U.S. surveillance plane in April 2001. The damaged U.S. plane was forced to land on Hainan and the crew held captive for two weeks until the crisis was defused.

Whether for combat or commerce, a southern launch pad certainly makes sense from the Chinese perspective of power projection.

In the past half century nine countries have demonstrated satellite-launching capability: Russia (1957) when it was the Soviet Union; the United States (1958); France (1965); Japan (February 1970); China (April 1970); Britain (1971); India (1980); Israel (1988) and Iraq (1989).

The next two countries expected to join this list are Iran with its medium-range (800 mi.) Shahab-3 missile, a modified version of the North Korean Nodong-1 ballistic missile, and Pakistan with its Shaheen II rocket that can travel 1,250 miles.