China selects 80 proposals for future space science missions
China's National Space Science Centre (NSSC) has selected 80 proposals for future innovative space science missions after assessing a broad array of submissions from across the country.
The proposals cover a range of areas, including space-based astronomy, astrophysics, solar physics, planetary science, microgravity science, life sciences and others.
The selected mission proposals come from 39 organisations, including the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and its various institutes and research centres, universities and a handful from industry.
"Some of them are thinking about the most cutting-edge scientific problems", Dr Wu Ji, director general of the NSSC told CCTV+.
"For example, some proposals are about the dark ages in terms of the origin of the universe. The dark ages between the Big Bang and stars starting shining have never been observed."
The NSSC received 136 proposals for missions for the next 10 to 15 years from 54 research institutes, universities and other organisations, following a call for submissions in December.
The 80 were selected after evaluation by 30 academicians, which was followed by review by a panel of 15 experts headed by Ouyang Ziyuan.
Mr Ouyang, a renowned cosmochemist and senior figure in China's lunar exploration project (CLEP), spoke highly of the new system of soliciting proposals for evaluation, which had been lacking in China's nascent space science work.
The selected proposals will be given funding for six months by CAS for further development of the mission concept, after which further support for research will be available.
Some of the proposals will be selected as candidates for the country's 14th or 15th Five-Year Plans on space exploration, covering 2021-30. The primary criteria is the prospect of scientific achievement, Wu said in December.
"We are planning to launch at least 10 to 15, or even 20 science satellites to do experiments in space. The seeds of those plans are now being fostered," Wu said.
Dark matter, quantum science and more
The NSSC operates under CAS, and has implemented the country's first batch of space science missions, starting with the launch of the DAMPE dark matter probe in December 2015.
DAMPE was followed last year by two more pioneering missions - the QUESS quantum science satellite and Shijian-10 retrievable microgravity probe - and will be completed with the launch of the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT) this year.
Above: China's Wukong (DAMPE) dark matter probe launches from Jiuquan in December 2015 (China Daily).
Developed by the Institute of High Energy Physics (IHEP), HXMT aims to study highly obscured supermassive black holes and observe transient X-ray sources in greater detail than ever before, and create a high precision hard x-ray map of the sky.
With a mass of 2,800kg, it will orbit at an altitude of 550km inclined at 43 degrees for around four years following launch from Jiuquan on a Long March 2D rocket, using three telescopes to survey the sky at energies between 1-250 kiloelectron volts (KeV).
Above: The HXMT probe in an anechoic chamber (IHEP).
The next round of Chinese space science
A second batch of five missions are already under development, with launch variously expected by or around 2020.
They are the space-weather observatory mission in collaboration with the European Space Agency (SMILE), a global water cycle observation mission (WCOM), the Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Thermosphere mission (MIT), the Einstein Probe (EP), and the Advanced Space-based Solar Observatory (ASO-S).
Operating in the new field of transient astronomy, the Einstein Probe will survey large portions of the universe for exotic space phenomena using very sensitive X-ray cameras.
The 380kg probe will orbit at around 600 km above the Earth at an inclination of 30 degrees for five years, using wide-field and follow-up x-ray telescopes.
Above: China's Einstein Probe will survey a range of astronomical phenomena (CAS).