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Spaceflight redefines ‘Made in China’ tag

Cheng Yingqi and Liu Ce Updated: Oct 28,2016 7:52 AM     China Daily

Since China emerged as an industrial powerhouse three decades ago, the nation’s critics have defined “Made in China” as a synonym for poor quality. Today, the picture is changing, thanks to ever-rising investment into scientific and technological research.

The latest case in point is the Shenzhou XI manned spacecraft which blasted off on Oct 17.

Covered by independent intellectual property rights, the research and development of the spaceship and peripheral technologies involved technology companies nationwide, which were able to upgrade and redesign their products as a result.

The China Electronics Technology Group made the solar panels that provide power for Shenzhou XI, and the company is now hoping to expand its patented battery technology to the civil sector.

Shenzhou XI is fully powered by eight solar panels covering a total area of 24 square meters. The panels store energy efficiently as the spaceship travels on the sun side, and the batteries release that energy when it flies into the night side.

“The solar panels most frequently used on Earth are silicon batteries, but in space we use gallium arsenide batteries, which are much more expensive. Now, we are adopting new measures to lower the cost in order to expand the use of gallium arsenide batteries in civil products,” Zhou Chunlin, the company’s deputy chief engineer, said.

In some cases, companies invest in aerospace technology that cannot be readily commercialized.

The Shenyang No 4 Rubber Co has a team of 10 to 15 people in charge of developing rubber components for the Shenzhou XI spaceship.

“Although we cannot yet apply the technology to civil products, the accumulated technology will surely help to improve the quality of our other products,” said Dong Guifen, a senior engineer at the company.

Shenyang No 4’s related, nonmilitary products are used on China’s high-speed trains and are also exported to countries in the European Union and Southeast Asia.

Wu Ping, deputy director and spokeswoman of the China Manned Space Agency, said the ability to conduct manned space flight indicates the level of a country’s scientific and technological development and comprehensive national strength.

“Manned space flight is a driving force behind economic development, especially in the high-tech industry,” Wu told a media briefing in September, adding that the economic input-output ratio of manned space technology is between 1:10 and 1:12.

In the past two decades, more than 2,000 different space technologies have been used across all sectors of national economic construction, including sectors such as raw materials, microelectronics, machine manufacturing, chemicals, metallurgy, textiles and information technology.