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China's Manned Space Program Seen as Bid to Shore Up Image

ATTEMPTING to restore the image of its space program after two successive rocket failures, China has unveiled an ambitious plan to put a man in space in the year 2000.

In April, Beijing announced the manned space program and plans to launch a satellite in the mid-1990s for the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat). Intelsat administers 17 satellites and offers a range of global communications services.

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China's no-frills launch service has gained a reputation of reliability and low cost. But after the recent failures, the Great Wall Industry Corporation (GWIC), the state company running the space program, recruited the British advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi to promote China's rockets abroad. Saatchi may have a difficult job ahead.

* A Long March 3 rocket failed to put a satellite in orbit in December when its third stage malfunctioned. It was only the third reported misfire in more than 30 attempted launches.

* Then in March, on national television, a Long March 2E rocket carrying an Australian-owned satellite fizzled on the launch pad. Engineers aborted the launch of the Long March 2E, China's newest and most powerful rocket, when a short-circuit disrupted the flow of fuel to the auxiliary engines.

China plans again to try to put the Aussat B-1 satellite into orbit in about three months, says Li Minxiang, a GWIC spokesman.

According to official press reports, Beijing has responded to these mishaps by accelerating the manned space program, which observers say is already ambitious and costly.

China will launch an unmanned spacecraft within the next eight years and follow it with a manned launch in the year 2000, according to the official newspaper China Daily. The missions will prepare for the deployment of an experimental space station before 2020, according to a report by the State Commission on Science and Technology.

China also plans to build a reusable space transport system similar to the United States space shuttle and larger rockets to put men and equipment into space, China Daily reported.

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The report acknowledges that China still lacks the know-how to put an astronaut in space. China must develop a life-support system, the technology necessary for the return and recovery of spacecraft, and several other basic capabilities, it says.

The $60 million contract for the launch of an Intelsat VII-A satellite will also help China fund its manned space program. The contract clearly makes China a top competitor with US and European commercial launch services, which accuse Beijing of selling its rockets below cost.

In its deal with Saatchi, GWIC approved a joint venture dubbed Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising (China) Ltd. The British agency provided 51 percent of the $400,000 funding for the venture, with GWIC and the Tianma Photo Corporation investing the remainder, says Mr. Li.

In return for Saatchi's positive publicity, GWIC will help the British company break into China's advertising market. Saatchi, in turn, will help Tianma promote foreign tourism in China.

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