Shijian 1

Shijian 1 was the second mission in the Dong Fang Hong 1 (DFH-1) project, intended for the testing of the solar cell power technology and probing space environment in low Earth orbit. It used the backup satellite originally built for the DFH-1 mission, added with technologies and scientific mission payload that could not be fitted on DFH-1 due to time constraint.

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Dong Fang Hong 1

China’s first satellite, Dong Fang Hong 1 (DFH-1, DFH = “The East is Red”), was a symmetrical 72-faced polyhedron 1 m in diameter, with an orbital mass of 173 kg. The satellite space-frame consisted the upper and lower hemispherical covers, and a connection section in the middle. Four high-frequency (20 MHz) radio signal antennas were attached symmetrically to the middle connection section. The 3 m-long antennas were folded during launch and then deployed by the centrifugal force of the satellite spin once in orbit. A single 40 cm long VHF radio beacon antenna was attached to the top of the satellite. The 5 cm radio transponder and 10 cm UHF radio beacon antenna were attached to the middle section of the satellite.

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Early space history (Part 10): Dong Fang Hong 1

The satellite programme (Project 651) entered full-speed development in the late 1960s. The China Academy of Sciences (CAS) was responsible for the development of the satellite. The Seventh Ministry of Machinery Industry was responsible for the development of an orbital launch vehicle based on its Dong Feng-4 (DF-4) intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM). The Fourth Ministry of Machinery Industry and the CAS were co-developing the ground tracking and telemetry systems. The mission was to be launched from the Jiuquan missile base (Base 22).

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The first artificial satellite (Project 651)

By the mid-1960s, China’s economy had recovered from the disastrous Great Leap Forward campaign between 1958 and 1961, allowing some degree of normalities to be restored. Despite the cancellation of Project 581, a small team of Chinese scientists were making breakthroughs in spaceflight technologies including spacecraft design, sounding rockets, telemetry and tracking system, and ground simulation systems. These efforts allowed the reborn of the Chinese space programme in the mid-1960s.

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Sounding rocket programme (T-7)

Following the cancellation of Project 581, in the China Academy of Sciences (CAS) adjusted its space programme’s objective from orbiting a satellite to carrying out relevant research in satellite design, sounding rocket launches, space environment simulation, and telemetry systems. These researches, carried out between 1960 and 1965, paved the way for the launch of China’s first satellite in 1970.

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Project 581

On 4 October 1957, an R-7 rocket taking off from Baikonur placed the world’s first artificial satellite into earth orbit, a historical even that shook the world and marked the arrival of the space age. Inspired by the success, Chinese academia and political leadership envisaged the creation of the country’s own space programme. During the 2nd Session of the Eighth Conference of the Chinese Communist Party in May 1958, Chairman Mao Zedong proudly announced that China would follow its Soviet ally to launch a satellite.

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Soviet assistance

Even with China’s best talents at his disposal, Qian realised that his team would still be unable to develop a modern missile independently. In July 1956, the Fifth Bureau submitted a report to the Chinese leadership requesting for Soviet assistance on missile development and operations. The request was forwarded to the Soviet government in August, but received only a lukewarm response.

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The Fifth Academy

In his plan for developing China’s jet propulsion technology and rocketry research, Dr Qian Xuesen recommended the creation of dedicated missile R&D institutions as well as a government body to provide oversight and planning for the entire missile and rocketry programme. This led to the creation of three organisations for the missile programme in 1956, all under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of National Defence (MND).

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Return of Qian Xuesen

Rocketry research is generally regarded a collective effort, requiring the involvement of many individuals and organisations across a wide range of scientific disciplines. However, it cannot be denied that a small number of key individuals often played a pivotal role in a country’s rocketry and space effort. Just as Russia has Sergei Korolev and the U.S. has Wernher von Braun, China also has its leading figure in the development of rocket technology — Dr Qian Xuesen.

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Decision to develop nuclear weapon

The Chinese political leadership took the decision to embark on a programme to develop an independent strategic nuclear deterrence in the mid-1950s. The decision came as the result of painful lessons through the country’s confrontations with the nuclear-armed United States. During the 1950s Korean War, U.S. military planners repeatedly threatened the use of nuclear weapon against Chinese and North Korean forces. In the subsequent Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1954-55, the Pentagon again recommended the use of nuclear weapons to stop a possible Chinese invasion of the Taiwan Island. In both occasions Moscow refused to offer its nuclear guarantee. The Chinese leadership concluded that only an independent nuclear capability could deter ‘nuclear blackmail’ against the country.

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