Long March Rocket: Abandoned Launch Won’t Put Down Hype Over China’s Ambitious New Space Race Plans World News

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At 11 p.m., the beach party on the tropical island of Hainan is in full swing.

Some sit under palm trees, others tend to have a barbecue, but most of the people are gathered in a circle and waving Chinese Flag and join in while the band plays ‘Me and my Homeland’ loudly – a traditional patriotic song that was repeated about 17 times tonight.

In the distance, spotlights illuminate the launch pad where a Long March rocket is waiting, ready to go into space.

Welcome to Wenchang, China’s Cape Canaveral.

People gathered on the beach in Wenchang to watch the launch
Picture:
Hundreds of people gathered on Wenchang Beach to watch the launch

In a country that closely monitors its sensitive installations, the beach is a rare exception. A few hundred people are gathered here – locals, rocket enthusiasts and tourists who have been interested in it.

You step back in the sand, eat something, and look forward to watching China take its next step new space race.

“China’s space capabilities have increased significantly in the past few decades,” said Alexandra Stickings, research associate for space policy and security at RUSI, to Sky News.

“In terms of the number of active satellites and launches that can operate independently, they are considered a Tier 1 space power alongside the US and Russia.”

They feel that with some pride in Wenchang. Ms. Lin, a young woman who lives in Haikou, the closest major city, came here “just to have the experience.”

“It’s a patriotic thing,” she told Sky News. She also thinks the start date is romantic on a Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day.

People gathered across from the launch site as China's space program accelerated
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There was a lot of excitement among those who showed up

Others have progressed. Mr. Liu from mainland Guangxi Province is here to “watch our country’s technological advances” and says, “Our country is so great.”

The Liu family are also tourists – grandmother, mother and son. The grandmother tells Sky News, “I wanted to see the amazing scene on location, and I want my son to see it too.

“Before we saw it online. But this time we wanted to come here to see it.”

The Long March rocket carries the cargo ship Tianzhou, which will carry supplies to the new Chinese space station.

The entire array will be assembled by the end of next year – a significant step in China’s space ambitions.

Mr. Wang, a Hainan student and astronomy enthusiast, tells Sky News that he is very proud.

“Think about the past. China wanted to join the International Space Station, but other countries didn’t want us. But now our country is stronger and I believe it will become even more powerful over time. Long live our country,” he says.

A bystander was spotted in a tent while waiting for the rocket to launch
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A bystander was spotted in a tent while waiting for the rocket to launch

China is certainly flexing its muscles. Next to the space station this month landed a rover on Marsand becomes only the second country to do so.

It has now completed its Beidou satellite navigation network, a rival to American GPS. And several trips to the moon have been made, and plans have even been announced with Russia to establish a permanent crewed moon base.

In 2018, it launched more spaceships than any other country.

“Operating in space has enormous economic benefits,” Stickings told Sky News. “Space systems support a wide range of industries and also play a role in China’s soft power. There is also a sense of success in space that translates into a global stance.”

It also brings hard strength.

“There are a number of military uses for the Chinese space program,” said Stickings. “It expands its communication and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in space.

“China has also developed a range of counter-space capabilities to destroy, destroy and deny space assets, from kinetic anti-satellite missiles to cyberattacks to non-kinetic measures like lasers that can blind satellites.”

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China’s spaceship lands on Mars

With increasing ambitions, the country has also earned criticism.

After the previous start, parts of the The missile from Long March fell back to Earth out of control, potentially landing anywhere – actions NASA said were irresponsible.

At a briefing in Beijing, State Department spokesman Zhao Lijian briefly told Sky News that the allegations were unfounded.

Competition is now fierce in the cold of space.

On the beach of Wenchang, however, it is a little more relaxed in the early morning hours with the still warm breeze that tousles the palm trees.

Around 1 a.m., people make their way to the main beach opposite the launch site.

A low hum can be heard. The rocket was refueled.

Amateur photographers set up some serious camera rigs. A tour group with matching hats is sitting in neat rows on small plastic stools that they have brought with them.

China has already landed a rover on Mars and signed an agreement with Russia on a manned space station
Picture:
China has already landed a rover on Mars and signed an agreement with Russia on a manned space station

Then the rumor got around: the start was canceled. Some people start to leave, others stay.

Eventually local Hainan TV, which is controlled by the state, confirms that the launch has been scrubbed. Finally the police orders everyone to leave the beach and the evening is over.

However, there is little frustration. The crowd packs up and goes home happy enough with the evening entertainment even without a spectacular climax.

They know there will be a lot more launches for them to see.

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