BEIJING, Dec. 28 (Xinhua) -- Man's approach to the universe has witnessed a further diversification in its means of exploration in 2010, as world's major aerospace powers vied in developing means of delivery, launching satellites and building the International Space Station.
Following are some key space events that have happened in 2010.
1. The United States launched its space shuttles for three times in 2010 to deliver equipment needed for building the International Space Station, including three pressurized modules Tranquility, Cupola and Rassvet. With a total of 13 modules, the nearly-complete station now has the capacity for the long-term station of six astronauts and has its lifetime prolonged until 2020.
2. China successfully launched its lunar probe satellite Chang'e 2 on Oct. 1. The orbiter, still running at the moment, has taken high-resolution pictures of the lunar surface from 18.7 km above the moon, and done some critical tests for following Chang'e satellites' landing on the moon in the future.
3. The U.S. Air Force's X-37B unmanned spacecraft returned to Earth on Dec. 3 after more than seven months in orbit. The Boeing-built winged craft was designed to launch like a satellite and capable of deploying solar panels to provide electrical power in orbit. The United States hoped the tests on X37B would be helpful for the development of a brand new aircraft equipped with both aeronautic and aerospace engines and capable of vertical taking off and landing.
4. Japan's Hayabusa probe returned to Earth on June 13 with particles collected from the asteroid Itokawa. Hayabusa was launched in 2003. It reached an asteroid named Itokawa in 2005 and made two touchdowns on it in November the same year. The spacecraft experienced a fuel leak and loss of contact with Earth for seven weeks before returning to earth in June.
5. The U.S. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, successfully launched the Falcon 9 rocket which carried a capsule named Dragon to its orbit at 300 km above the Earth. The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) plans to use Dragon to fly cargo, and perhaps astronauts, to the space station.
6. A bunch of new navigation satellites started to serve this year. China launched five orbiters in 2010 for its independent satellite navigation and positioning network, also known as Beidou, or Compass system. Russia launched six satellites for its GLONASS navigation system. The U.S. first new GPS satellite, named GPS 2F-1, blasted off atop an unmanned Delta 4 rocket in May, pushing its navigation precision up to 3 meters. And Japan's first navigation satellite Michibiki, meaning "guiding" or "showing the way", blasted off on Sept. 11 and will improve positioning coverage in mountainous terrain and urban centers.
7. The spacecraft for the U.S. Solar Dynamics Observatory, a NASA mission to observe the Sun for five years, was launched on Feb. 11, 2010.
The mission is expected to provide some details of the inner functioning mechanism of the Sun. On June 15 the French PICARD satellite was also launched to study the most unnoticeable solar changes.
8. The U.S. Air Force launched its first Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite on Aug. 14. With its enormous huge transmission capacity, AEHF satellites will place the aging Milstar satellite fleet to provide faster simultaneous communications. On Sept. 25 the U.S. Air Force launched the Space-Based Space Surveillance satellite (SBSS), which will keep tabs on other spacecrafts and space junks around Earth without being constrained by weather, atmosphere or the time of day.
9. Japan launched Venus climate orbiter Akatsuki (meaning "Dawn") on May 21. On Dec. 7 the probe missed the Venusian orbit due to a thruster that intended to slow the craft to allow Venus' gravity to pull it into orbit shut down prematurely. Japan will try the probe again when the satellite passes Venus six years later.
10. U.S. President Barack Obama abandoned on April 15 the return-to-moon plan of the previous administration, and instead set the country's new space policy, including sending humans to an asteroid by 2025 and by the mid-2030s sending humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. The U.S. government will fund private corporations in developing aerospace transport technologies, while continuing its research on heavy-thrust carrier rockets and certain parts of its previous manned spacecraft plan.