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China Launches Its First Space Science Mission, to Look for Dark Matter

Dec. 18, 2015 (EIRNS)—China’s Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE) satellite was launched yesterday morning, local time, to start a three-year mission to observe high-energy particles in space. While other detectors have been on a similar mission, such as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, designed by Chinese-born Nobel Laureate Samuel Ting and attached to the International Space Station, DAMPE is designed to detect high-energy photons and electrons that scientists believe result when dark matter particles are annihilated, at a higher resolution than any operating instrument. It will also provide data on galactic cosmic rays and gamma rays.

DAMPE is the first in a series of four dedicated space science satellites that China will launch over the next year. Space science, aside from lunar missions, is an area in which China’s space program has lagged behind other space-faring nations. In 2010, Chinese scientists started lobbying for increased government support, and recommended a satellite to investigate dark matter. "This would be a major breakthrough in the field of basic science," said Wu Ji of the Academy of Sciences at that time, "which has been dormant for decades since Einstein’s Theory of Relativity." It has been posited that it is "dark matter" that accounts for unexplained cosmological gravitational effects.

The $100 million spacecraft is designed for a three-year mission, which could be extended. In addition to three Chinese scientific institutes, institutions in Italy and Switzerland are participating.