Two universities in Hunan dispute over design ownership of China’s new-gen spacesuit
Published: Jul 09, 2021 04:35 AM
Taikonaut Liu Boming steps out of Tianhe core cabin, performs extravehicular activities. Photo: CCTV

Taikonaut Liu Boming steps out of Tianhe core cabin, performs extravehicular activities. Photo: CCTV

While the heat over China’s latest space conquer that delivered the first successful spacewalk outside the Tianhe space station core cabin have yet faded, the new-generation spacesuit that taikonauts wore during their extravehicular activity has been dragged into a dispute between two universities in Central China’s Hunan Province over its design ownership. 

The controversy occurred when Luo Jianping, one of the research fellows at Xiangtan University, who had spent the last eight years developing the new spacesuit for China’s space station missions with his team, left the school for a new position in Hunan University in 2020, The Paper reported on Thursday. 
Hunan University, thus making use of Luo’s research works as propaganda for the school, posted an article on Sunday at its official WeChat and Sina Weibo accounts that was titled “So Proud! Designed by Hunan University, Successfully Assisted the Spacewalk.” 

The article said that the new-generation spacesuit codenamed Feitian that taikonauts Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo wore during their epic spacewalk was designed by a research team led by the school’s assistant professor Luo, with no mentioning of the fact that he was doing the research works at his previous post at Xiangtan University. 

In another interview with Focus Report in Sunday evening, a TV commentary program with state broadcaster Central China Television (CCTV,) Luo was also titled as professor at Hunan University as he was introducing the design details of the spacesuits. 

However, prior to Luo’s interview, Xiangtan University had also issued an article on June 18, saying that the school had participated in a number of technological innovations that would be providing careful services to taikonauts’ life and work in space, including the Feitian spacesuit design.  

It noted that the university had undertaken the task as early as in 2013, and had set up a research team led by professor Ma Qiucheng. 

Media has noted that the spacesuit design project had been mentioned several times on Xiangtan University’s official website in 2014 and 2016. 

Commenting on the dispute, Ma explained on Tuesday that he had indeed appointed Luo as the project leader when he set up the research team in 2013. 

“Undeniably, Luo Jianping made important contributions during the project. And [the article] is understandable for publicity departments at Hunan University after Luo joined work there in 2020. However, it must be based on the respect for truth and facts,” Ma noted. 

Xiangtan University is now liaising with Hunan University over the matter, The Paper reported. 

China's new-generation spacesuit codenamed Feitian, meaning "flying to space," is designed to fit a taikonaut with a height range between 160-180 centimeters. Although weighing 130 kilograms each, it takes only 3-5 minutes to take it on.

One key breakthrough of the new spacesuit is that it can support longer spacewalks, increasing from four hours to the current seven to eight hours, media reported.

It is also packed with multiple functions including radiation resistance and a life support system.