Modern Chinese Space Exploration and Dark Matter

The launch of the DAMPE satellite and its significance in China.

My week 7 group to Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing had the invaluable opportunity to be a part of a historical moment for China in the field of space exploration – the official launch of the naming ceremony of China’s first Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE). In the same ceremony, the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Purple Mountain Observatory in Nanjing announced a global competition to name to DAMPE satellite, which is expected to be launched from the Jiu quan Satellite Launch Centre by the end of this year.

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A group of Scientists and experts in the field of Astronomy delivering opening addresses

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Yale-NUS students signing on the backdrop for the event

At a press briefing on 30th June this year, Chang said that the DAMPE satellite would have the widest observation spectrum and highest energy resolution of any dark matter probe in the world. Considering China’s relatively new space exploration programme, the launch of this satellite is indeed a historical moment of China.

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Artist’s rendering of DAMPE satellite. Image Credit:

The DAMPE satellite was made to detect and potentially identify the dark matter in space, which would help us understand the 27% of material existing in the universe that scientists have been fascinated with and baffled by since its discovery in 1932. Dark matter has evoked the curiosity of scientists all over the world since it is one of the greatest mysteries of space that has yet to be understood and defined. Accounting for over a quarter of the universe’s mass-energy balance, it can only be observed indirectly through its interaction with visible matter.

Consistent with their traditional observation-based method of scientific inquiry, Chinese scientists have taken scrutiny of the subject a step further in being the first to launch a satellite solely for the purposes of gathering concrete data in order to study the matter more closely. According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, China built the probe in collaboration with the University of Geneva (Switzerland) and Italian universities in Bari, Lecce, and Perugia, indicating its openness to collaboration with other nations in the study of space. This step forward signals China’s ambition in pursuing a rigorous exploration program, and highlights the changing initiative for collaboration between key countries that have large-scale space projects, such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia, amongst others.

The atmosphere of strict formality that enshrouded the ceremony quickly dissolved with a spirited presentation on dark matter and the progressiveness the DAMPE satellite would bring to China’s space exploration. The slides were interjected with images of Sheldon of the Big Bang theory scribbling equations on dark matter, eliciting laughter from reporters and students alike.

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An overview of why dark matter and the DAMPE is increasingly relevant to space exploration

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A presentation slide outlining how the DAMPE will gather information

The launch is not only a hugely significant milestone for Chinese space exploration, but is also instrumental in the development of dark matter theory which will trigger revolutionary progress in man’s understanding of the space phenomena and physics. The DAMPE marks China’s first foray into an observation-based, direct engagement with dark matter. A successful DAMPE mission would undoubtedly lay the groundwork for China’s continued development and understanding of dark matter, as well as grant them the status of pioneers in procuring new knowledge on the subject.

– Marissa Foo