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China Outlines Space Priorities, Including Debris Mitigation, New Launch Vehicles

English: Image made from models used to track ...
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By Peter B. de Selding

PARIS — The Chinese government on Dec. 29 issued a broad statement on its five-year space program, saying top priorities include developing three new launch vehicles — including a rapid-response launch system — and mitigating its contribution to space debris.
The 17-page white paper, “China’s Space Activities in 2011,” reiterates China’s focus on lunar exploration, with robotic lunar landers and a lunar sample-return mission slated for launch by 2016. The country’s well-publicized development of its manned space station in low Earth orbit is also a priority.

Chinese officials accustomed to criticizing alleged breaches of space etiquette by the United States came in for a large dose of international criticism following China’s intentional destruction of one of its satellites in low Earth orbit in 2007. The maneuver, apparently designed to test a mobile ground-based missile launch system, left a large field of debris that will complicate satellite operations — including China’s operations — in low Earth orbit for decades.

The U.S. Air Force, using the U.S. Space Surveillance Network of....