Chinese Space Activities in the 1960s
A Dongfeng 2 (CSS-1) SRBM being erected on the launcher. The missile was derived from the Russian R-2 technology and was the first Chinese indigenously developed ballistic missile
Marshal Nie Rong-zhen (left) inspecting the missile test site in Base 20 (Shuang Cheng Tzu). Nie was in charge of China's nuclear weapon programme in the 1960s.
Space dog Shanshan was one of the several animals that flew in suborbital flights onboard sounding rockets in the 1960s
Despite the economic hardship and political turmoil, China continued with its missile and space programme throughout the 1960s. The indigenous ballistic missiles were successfully tested and the first missile-delivered nuclear test was conducted in 1966. Sounding rockets carrying white rats and dogs were launched into space for suborbital flights. A new launch site with space launch capability was constructed in northwest China. The programme to launch China’s first artificial Earth satellite (Project 651) was well underway. China was about to enter its space age.
February: The Chinese Academy of Science launched China’s first sounding rocket from a launch site (Base 603) in Guangde County, Anhui Province. The rocket reached a maximum altitude of 8,000m.
March: Base 20 began preparation for the first test launch of the Soviet R-2 (SS-2 Sibling) short-range ballistic missile. However, the launch was delayed as the Soviet Union postponed the delivery of the liquid oxygen propellant for the missile.
August: the Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev decided to suspend all military assistance to China, and recalled all 1,343 Soviet advisers working in the Chinese military and defence industry. This decision, coupled with the subsequent financial hardship and widespread famine in the country, forced China to suspend its plan to launch a satellite.
10 Sept: China successfully tested a Soviet R-2 missile fuelled with Chinese-made propellant from Base 20. This was the first ever Chinese ballistic missile test.
5 November: A Chinese-made R-2 (1059 Missile) was successfully tested in Base 20.
6 and 16 December: Two more 1059 Missiles, including a radio telemetry test missile, were successfully tested in Base 20.
19 July: Eight white rats were sent into space onboard a T-7A/S1 sounding rocket and then returned to Earth safely after a short suborbital (70km altitude) flight.
May: With the country’s economy recovering, the space programme was back on the agenda. The Chinese leadership approved the Project 651 to develop and launch the country’s first satellite Dongfanghong 1, followed by a recoverable remote-sensing satellite programme and possibly a manned spaceflight mission. Dr Qian Xue-Sen was responsible for overseeing the whole space programme.
June: Two more sounding rockets with white rats onboard were successfully launched and recovered.
15 July: China’s first space dog Xiaobao travelled in space in a suborbital flight (100km altitude) onboard a T-7A/S2 sounding rocket and returned to Earth safely. The flight lasted 20 minutes.
28 July: A second suborbital flight with the space dog Shanshan and four white rats onboard a T-7A/S2 sounding rocket.
August: The Chinese Academy of Science began preparation for sending a monkey into space onboard the sounding rocket. However, the plan was seriously interrupted by the political turmoil of the Culture Revolution. The programme was cancelled and the scientists working on the project was recalled to receive political education.
27 October: China conducted its first and only missile-delivered nuclear test. At 09:00 local time, a Dongfeng 2A (CSS-1) SRBM carrying a 20tT-yield nuclear warhead was launched from Base 20. Nine minutes later, the missile reached the Lop Nur nuclear test site in Xinjiang and its warhead successfully detonated at 569m above the ground surface.
May: The Academy of Satellite and Spaceship (a.k.a. the Fifth Space Academy, now the China Academy of Space Technology, CAST) was formed to be responsible for spacecraft design and fabrication.
26 May: The first successful test launch of the Dongfeng 3 (CSS-2) liquid-propellant medium-range ballistic missile.
1 April: Under the suggestion of Dr Qian Xue-sen, the Institute of Cosmos Medicine & Engineering Research (or the 507th Institute in its military code name) was formed to conduct research on space medicine, and to develop space food, spacesuit, and the spacecraft’s onboard life support system.
December: A new missile launch site, codenamed Base 25 (now Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre), became operational. The first full-range Dongfeng 3 flight test was conducted from the base on 18 December.
Last updated: 23 January 2012