chasing the sun: china's solar exploration marks new milestone
kuafu-1 lifted off from the jiuquan satellite launch center in northwest china at 07:43 a.m, beijing time, 9th october. (photo: xinhua)
by lin yuchen
china's space exploration has reaped significant rewards over the past decade, furthering the country's scientific endeavors to unravel mysteries beyond the earth.
in june, 2012, the shenzhou -9 docked with china's first space lab tiangong -1, marking the country's first crewed spacecraft rendezvous and manual docking.
the chang'e-3, launched in december, 2013, achieved china's first soft-landing and roving exploration on the moon. its successor chang'e-4 achieved humanity's first soft landing on the far side of the moon in 2019.
while the sun remains the only star accessible for our close investigation, china did not launch a solar observatory until recent times.
toward the sun
the chinese people's pursuit of the secrets of the sun has been reflected in ancient mythologies, in which the two figures xihe and kuafu are the most famous.
in october, 2021, the chinese h-alpha solar explorer, dubbed xihe, was launched in china, marking the country's first solar observatory satellite sent into space.
then the advanced space-based solar observator (aso-s), nicknamed kuafu -1 after a mythological giant who relentlessly chases the sun, lifted off in northwest china on october 9, 2022.
both satellites revolve around the 25th 11 -year solar cycle, which would last from the latter half of 2020 to about 2031, with an expected peak in 2024 to 2025, similar to its last peak on halloween in 2003, to obtain valuable data through more frequent solar eruptions.
they are representing the beginning of the vision of achieving the three-dimensional detection of the sun's global and solar-terrestrial space by 2035, a proposal put forward by chinese scientists at the xiangshan science conference held in october, 2021.
"the solar three-dimensional exploration would be a systematic project which integrates space science and technology, and space applications," said yang mengfei, academician at chinese academy of sciences (cas), adding that this will drive the development of other related disciplines such as solar physics research and space weather forecasting applications, enhancing human research on solar eruptions that cripple global communication and positioning.
xihe, which serves as a scientific experimental satellite for constructing high precision and stability satellite platforms, could help formulate the chinese strategies in tackling future negative impacts caused by the sun.
kuafu-1, operating on the basis of xihe's contributions, is specially designed for solar observation, aiming to study the causality between the solar magnetic field and two major eruptive phenomena—solar flares and coronal mass ejections (cmes) and their potential interactions, said gan weiqun, principal scientist of kuafu-1 of cas.
the satellite would assist in discovering the formulation and evolving process of solar activities and forecasting disruptive space weather for future human aviation and navigation work, according to gan.
"our understanding of the sun is far from profound, and how solar flares and cmes take place and affect our planet is still not quite clear," said gan, adding that the sun is the most familiar but strangest star to humankind.
during the next four years, the data captured by kuafu-1 would be transmitted to and stored at cas for further decoding to facilitate research.
in the mid-1960s, facing numerous difficulties such as the lack of technologies and facilities, including western blockades, china began the research and development of its own man-made satellite and successfully launched dongfanghong-1 on april 24, 1970.
from the early 1990s, when china initiated its manned space program to the success of shenzhou-6 in 2005, china has demonstrated its ability to complete manned scientific experiments independently, signifying that the country's space technology matches the achievements of the most advanced countries.
the beidou navigation satellite system began providing full global coverage for timing and navigation in 2020, offering an alternative to russia's glonass, the european galileo positioning system, and the us's gps.
these successes created a tradition of relentless hard work under extreme and arduous conditions, to solve critical problems and achieve successes for china's space exploration, which would be inherited by future space endeavors.