Other national programmes

Before turning to the United States' achievements in rocketry, we should remember that a number of other nations have contributed to the development of the present-day portfolio of launchers and space vehicles. There are active space and launcher programmes in the Far East, where China, Japan, India, and Pakistan all have space programmes. China and Japan both have major launcher portfolios.

In the Middle Kingdom, the invention of the rocket was followed by a long sleep of nearly 1,000 years. It was not until Tsien Hsue-Shen (1911-) was deported from the United States in 1955 that China began the serious development of modern rockets. He had won a scholarship to MIT in 1935, and later became Robert Goddard Professor of Jet Propulsion at CalTech. It is ironic that this supposed communist had been assigned the rank of temporary colonel in the US Air force in 1945, so that he could tour the German rocket sites, and meet Werner von Braun. He became, in effect, the Korolev or Werner von Braun of the Chinese space programme. Work on modern rockets began in China in 1956, and by the end of 1957, through an agreement with the USSR, R-1 and R-2 rocket technology had been transferred to the Chinese. Understandably these were old Russian rockets, and bore more resemblance to the German A4 than to the then current Russian launchers. Following the breach with the USSR in 1960, the Chinese programme continued, with an indigenous version of the R-2 called Dong Feng, or East Wind. Engulfed by the Cultural Revolution, the programme struggled through, with the support of Zhou Enlai, to the design of a new rocket—the Chang Zheng, or Long March. This was ultimately used to launch China's first satellite in 1970, a year after Apollo 11. China has continued to launch satellites for communications and reconnaissance, using versions of the Long March. Since 1990, this vehicle has been available as a commercial launcher. Tsien continued to play a major part in the programme, but fell into disfavour in 1975. Nevertheless he is still considered as the father of the modern Chinese space programme, and was honoured by the government in 1991. The Long March used a variety of engines, all developed in China, including those using liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Despite the setbacks caused by political upheaval, China has succeeded in establishing and maintaining an indigenous modern rocket technology. Recent developments in China have placed the country as the third in the world to have launched a man into space. China is likely to develop a strong manned space programme.

Japan is a modern democracy, and rockets were developed there in an exclusively non-military environment. In fact, Japan's first satellite, Osumi, was launched by a rocket designed and built by what was essentially a group of university professors. The heritage of this remarkable success is that Japan had two space agencies: the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, depending from the Ministry of Culture, or Monbusho; and the National Space Development Agency, depending from the Ministry of Industry. ISAS was founded in the mid-1950s, and has developed a series of indigenous, solid-fuelled launchers used exclusively for scientific missions. These have ranged from small Earth satellites, to missions to the Moon, Mars and to comets. ISAS launched Japan's first satellite in February 1970, after the US and France, and before China and the United Kingdom. Although small, ISAS has continued to develop advanced rocket technology including liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen engines; and experiments on electric propulsion and single stage to orbit technology are in progress. NASDA is more closely modelled on NASA and ESA, and is concerned with the development of heavy launchers and the launching of communication and Earth resources satellites. It has an ambitious space programme, and is a partner in the International Space Station. After its foundation in 1964, NASDA began work, using US prototype technology, to produce the N series of heavy launchers. It has now developed entirely Japanese rocket technology for the H series of launchers. Japan was the fourth nation to launch a satellite, and with its two space agencies ranks as a major space-faring nation.1

India began space activities in 1972, when its first satellite was launched by the USSR; but development of a native launcher—the SLV rocket, which launched the satellite Rohini in 1980—took longer. There is now a substantial launcher capability with the ASLV and PSLV rockets.

Following the devastation of the Second World War, European nations entered the space age belatedly, with satellite launches by France, and later Britain. The National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) was founded in France in 1962, and retains responsibility for an active and wide-ranging national space programme. Using the Diamant rocket, it launched the first French satellite, Asterix, in 1965. Britain also developed a launcher to launch the Prospero satellite in 1971. Given the size of the US and USSR space programmes, individual nations in Europe could not hope to make a significant impact on space exploration. This was recognised by the creation of the European Space Agency in 1975.

ESA enabled the focusing of the technology programmes of the individual nations into a single space programme, and has been remarkably successful. It has succeeded in the creation of a coherent space programme, in which is combined the co-operative efforts of 14 member-states. This is evident in the many satellites which have been launched, and major participation in the International Space Station; but more so in the development of the Ariane European heavy launcher. Beginning with Ariane 1 in 1979, some 84 launches had been completed by 1996, the versions advancing to Ariane 4. Ariane has continued to develop, and in 1998 the first successful launch of the Ariane 5 vehicle took place. This is all-new technology, with a main-stage engine fuelled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, solid boosters, and the most modern control and guidance systems. The scale of the Ariane effort can be appreciated from the fact that engine production numbers exceed 1,000 (for the Viking, used on Ariane 4). Thus Europe has the most up-to-date rocket technology, and is in serious contention with the United States for the lucrative commercial satellite launcher market. Amongst the European nations, France and Germany take the lead in the Ariane programme, as in much else in Europe. The Ariane V has recently increased its capacity to 10 tonnes in geostationary transfer orbit.

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