China's space science ambitions mark a new milestone today with the launch of a microgravity research satellite set for 2 a.m. Wednesday morning Beijing time. The Shijian-10 (SJ-10) spacecraft carries 20 experiments covering fluid physics, materials science, and the effects of radiation and microgravity on various biological systems.
The mission deepens China's international cooperation in space, carrying an experiment jointly developed with the European Space Agency (ESA). "We have been sharing scientific data and sharing results" with China, says Antonio Verga, an ESA microgravity researcher in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. In particular, ESA scientists worked with Chinese colleagues on the Geospace Double Star Exploration Program, though the mission's two satellites were developed and launched by China's National Space Science Center (NSSC). SJ-10 "is the first cooperative mission in which ESA is actually flying a piece of hardware on a Chinese mission," Verga says.
The SJ-10 spacecraft will be launched on a Long March 2D rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern Gansu province. After 12 days in orbit, a re-entry capsule will return most samples to Earth, landing in Inner Mongolia. The short time frame is typical for space microgravity missions, Verga says. Experiments on the orbiter will continue for three more days, running on batteries for power.