China to attempt close to 30 space launches in 2017
Major missions planned include sending the new Tianzhou-1 cargo craft to the Tiangong-2 space lab in April to test refuelling technologies for a future space station, and the Chang'e-5 lunar sample return late in the year - the first such mission for over four decades.
Above: A rendering of Tiangong-2 (left) docked with Tianzhou-1 (CMSE).
China is set to perform the world's first launch of 2017 around 15:15 Universal Time January 4, seeing the TXJSSY-2 experimental communications satellite lofted to geostationary orbit by a Long March 3B from Xichang.
Among other launches expected during the year are the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT) space science probe, a mid-year launch of a Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket to test a new, large model of geostationary satellite, and a host of remote sensing, weather and communications satellites, including some to be used by the People's Liberation Army.
Above: The Chang'e-5 reentry capsule (r) and ascent module (background) undergoing testing (Framegrab/CCTV).
Much of the Chinese launch schedule has not been announced, due to China running a relatively closed space program, while the global calendar will start with a busy January.
Above: The maiden flight of Long March 5 in November 2016.
The year could also see the launches of the solid-fuelled Kuaizhou-1A, scheduled January 6, and Kuaizhou-11 rockets, developed under the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) to compete with CASC's Long March 11, and the debut of LandSpace-1, further boosting China's planned launch rate.
Chinese spaceflight in 2016
China launched a national record 22 times during 2016, surpassing the 19 launches reached in 2012 and 2015, while suffering one failure and a recent partial failure.
The two SuperView-1 satellites launched on December 28 needing to use their own onboard propulsion to reach their intended orbits.
The year saw a number of milestone and breakthrough missions, involving two astronauts spending a month in spaceaboard Tiangong-2, the debut of next-generation rockets, and a pioneering quantum science and communications satellite, QUESS.
Above: Moments from the Shenzhou-11/Tiangong-2 missions.
In 2018 China will start the construction of its modular space station with the launch of the 20 tonne Tianhe-1 core module, and also attempt the first ever soft landing on the far side of the Moon with the Chang'e-4 lander and rover.
A government white paper released in late December outlined many of China's space activities for the next five years, including plans for rocketry, lunar exploration and interplanetary missions for the years ahead.