Asia is conquering the final frontier, one launch at a time. Here are some of its most recent achievements in space
China May Run the World’s Next Space Station
In 2003, China became the second Asian country to send its astronauts into space, and in 2011 announced plans to build its own manned space station named Tiangong. Currently, its astronauts are not allowed on the International Space Station due to a ban by the US government.
In 2016, China announced a partnership with the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs to allow UN member countries access to the Chinese station to conduct experiments. In 2011 and 2016, it sent two test stations, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2, into space as practice.
Notably, the International Space Station is retiring in 2024 – and China, who expects Tiangong to be ready by 2022, predicts it will by then be the only country to have a space station in orbit.
Chinese astronauts are also eyeing a landing on the dark side of the Moon this year. If successful, they will be the first country in the world to do so.
India’s Probe Orbits Mars
In 2014, India became the second Asian country after Russia to launch a probe to Mars. The probe, named Mangalyaan, orbited the Red Planet, sending pictures and measurements back to the Indian space agency ISRO. In honour of the achievement, an image of the probe was printed on the country’s 2,000-rupee note.
India is the only country whose probe launch succeeded on its first attempt. Two other agencies – NASA and the European Space Agency – have also managed to launch Mars probes (China and Russia’s combined probe failed to leave orbit) but India managed the project at US$74 million, a fraction of the other agencies’ spending, and reportedly less than even the blockbuster space-themed movie, Gravity.
In 2015, India deployed its first space research observatory to study black holes and distant celestial objects. In 2016, NASA began discussions with several space agencies, including ISRO, to collaborate on a manned mission to Mars.
Mars is just one feather in India’s space cap. Last year, the ISRO set a world record by launching 104 satellites from one rocket.
This year, it is planning its second lunar mission after its first successful rover, Chandrayaan-1, discovered ice water on the moon in 2008. The coming Chandrayaan-2 will collect rock and soil in hopes of another groundbreaking discovery.
Japan Sells Rainbow Meteor Showers on Demand
At a reported cost of one million yen (USD9,000) per particle, Japan is planning to sell artificial meteor showers launched from a satellite in orbit next year. These artificial meteors are created from metal balls about the size of a blueberry, which burn in customised colours (including pink, purple and green) as they streak across the upper atmosphere after being released from a micro-satellite.
The technology is being developed by Japanese start-up ALE (short for Astro Live Experience) and supported by researchers from Japanese universities. ALE plans for the first batch of meteors to be tested over the Seto Inland Sea near Hiroshima next year.
The micro-satellite, which can hold between 300 to 400 meteor pellets, will be sent into orbit above Australia and then release its pellets towards Japan. The meteors last for about 10 seconds, burning longer and brighter than natural ones, and can be seen up to 100 kilometres away.
Apart from entertainment, ALE says that its artificial meteor showers could help physicists learn more about how space junk burns when it enters Earth’s atmosphere. Some also speculate that an artificial meteor shower might be used to open the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Related: The New Space Race
For more stories and photographs from this issue, see Asian Geographic Issue 129, 2018