Early Space Exploration
Inspired by the successes of the Soviet Union in space exploration, China initiated its own space programme in 1958. However, economic hardship and technical challenges led to a focus on suborbital sounding rocket missions in the 1960s. The country’s first artificial satellite, Dong Fang Hong 1, was finally launched in 1970.
The recoverable satellite (FSW) was China’s first application satellite programme, designed to support both military and civilian Earth observation needs. The satellites were capable of capturing medium-resolution Earth imagery from orbit and then returning the films inside their re-entry capsule. The programme ran between 1974 and 2006, with a total of 26 missions.
Earth Observation Satellites
China has introduced a comprehensive range of Earth observation satellites for reconnaissance, commercial remote-sensing, meteorology, ocean surveillance, mapping, environmental monitoring roles. Chinese Earth observation satellites have been equipped with both photographic and radar imaging packages, capable of transmitting high-resolution imagery of the Earth from orbit in real-time. China has been co-developing civilian remote-sensing satellites with Brazil, and also exported its commercial Earth imaging satellites to Venezuela and Pakistan. The Chinese aerospace industry has been actively marketing commercial Earth imaging satellites for both domestic and international customers.
China launched its first geostationary communications satellite in 1984, and has since then introduced four generations of communication satellites for both domestic and international customers. The third-generation DFH-4 introduced in 2006 has achieved a number of commercial successes with foreign customers. The fourth-generation DFH-5 communications satellite bus is expected to enter service in the early 2020s.
Since launching its first experimental navigation satellite in 2000, China has been developing its Beidou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) to rival the U.S. Global Positioning System, Russian GLONASS, and European Galileo. By the early 2020s, the Beidou network will be able to provide global positioning and timing services for both military and civil users.
Science and Technology Satellites
Since the 1970s, China has launched a large number of scientific research and technology demonstration satellites, including many as piggybacks of other missions. The exact nature and purpose for many of these missions remain classified. Since the mid-2010s, China has launched a number of high-profile scientific missions for astronomical and quantum physics researches.