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Dr ZHOU Jianping

84th Congregation (2017)

Dr ZHOU Jianping
Doctor of Science


Asparas soar through the heavens in the ancient murals of Dunhuang.  Legend tells of Chang'e and her flight to the moon.  China's space dream has spanned thousands of years.  Recently, with Shenzhou and Tiangong, it has finally come true.

Flying through space and visiting the moon has always been a collective dream for the Chinese.  It has been expressed again and again in mythology, literature, and the arts, as generation after generation has stared up into the starry sky and longed to go there.  One such dreamer was Zhou Jianping, born in 1957 in Changsha, Hunan, who has turned out to be a key player in propelling the country to fulfil a dream that has spanned thousands of years.

Dr Zhou Jianping is an outstanding scientist of contemporary China, specialising in spacecraft design as well as theoretical and applied solid mechanics.  He is a part-time professor and tutor of doctoral students at the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) and Beihang University and an honorary member of the National Committee of the China Association for Science and Technology.  Since 1999, Dr Zhou has devoted himself to the general design and technical management of China's manned space engineering programme.  He was one of the key designers of and contributors to China's unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-1 and its manned missions.

Shortly after Dr Zhou was born, in 1957, the Soviet Union stunned the world by blasting off the world's first artificial satellite, sparking a space race between the US and the Soviet Union.  As a teenager in 1970, Dr Zhou witnessed China's successful launch of its first space satellite, Dongfanghong-1, which raised the curtain for China's own space programme and fuelled his passion and ambitions to participate in the cause.

In 1981, Dr Zhou graduated from the NUDT.  Three years later, he obtained his master's degree from Dalian University of Technology, and went on to obtain a doctor of philosophy from NUDT in 1989.  He furthered his studies overseas in 1993, acting as a mechanics researcher and visiting scholar at the University of Southern California.  When he returned to China in 1995, he became the chief engineer of the Department of Astronautical Science and Engineering at NUDT.  In 2002, Dr Zhou became the general engineer of Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre, as well as general designer of the launch site system for China's Manned Space Programme.  In 2004, he was appointed vice chief designer of China's Manned Space Programme, and since 2006 he has been its chief designer.  In that role, Dr Zhou oversaw the missions for Shenzhou-7's extravehicular activities and the docking and rendezvous of the Tiangong-1 space station with Shenzhou 8 - 10, spacecraftthe technical work of Shenzhou-1, and the Tiangong-2 space laboratory and Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft missions, as well as the theoretical research and general design of China's space station project.  China launched the unmanned Shenzhou-1 spacecraft in 1999, marking a huge leap forward in the development of China's space exploration programme.  Ensuing years saw the successful launches of Shenzhou-2, Shenzhou-3 and Shenzhou-4.  In October 2003, China celebrated its first successful manned flight with Shenzhou-5, which sent into space and safely returned astronaut Yang Liwei.  In 2005, China achieved its first multiple-crew and multiple-day space mission with Shenzhou-6.  In 2008, China’s first spacewalk was accomplished with the Shenzhou-7 mission.  Thereafter, the Shenzhou 6-11 spacecraft, the Tiangong-1 target module and the Tiangong-2 space laboratory were all launched into space successfully to carry out multiple docking activities and conduct science experiments in space.  Over the past decade, China's space programme has witnessed rapid breakthroughs in its development.  The tireless dedication of Dr Zhou and his fellow aerospace scientists and engineers has borne remarkable fruit, as evidenced by the outstanding accomplishments of the Shenzhou spacecraft and the Tiangong space laboratory.  The team is now working on the development of China’s large modular space station.

To ordinary people, space exploration seems like a romantic and mysterious affair.  But Dr Zhou knows that his lifelong passion requires diligence, stringency, caution, and concreteness.  All work must be meticulous, careful and thorough, for there is no room for negligence.  As Dr Zhou has observed, ‘The space programme is a matter of life and death.’ But, he adds, it is a mission with a grand purpose.  ‘It is an adventure by human beings to explore the known universe, which enables us to broaden our horizons.  It's a mission full of danger, suitable only for the brave.’  He encourages the next generation to follow in his footsteps.  ‘We as human beings, and more importantly, as Chinese should explore the vastness of space.  If you wish to devote your career to the space sector, I wish for the younger generation who have set their eyes on this career to study hard and lay a solid foundation for their knowledge.  Commit yourself to realising the dream of human beings conquering outer space.  Devote yourself to fulfil the Chinese dream of a great revival of our strong nation.’

In addition to his design and management work in China's space engineering programme, Dr Zhou is also an exceptional physicist, boasting tremendous achievements in the research of solid mechanics.   He developed the constitutive model of solid propellant, including chemical ageing and mechanical damage for viscoelastic mechanics of solid propellants, as well as the methodology for evaluating the solid propellant rocket's structural integrity.  The application of his research has helped to extend the life span of the overused solid propellant engine and to develop new models.  He also contributed to the establishment of the theoretic system of transfer function methods for a  distributed parameter system.  He proposed a standard arithmetic for the static and dynamic response, buckling and modal analysis for a complex structure composed of beams, bars, plates, and shells, which has an edge in the analysis of high frequency response and stress concentration issues.

In 1999, Dr Zhou was one of the recipients of the National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars.  Over the next few years, he won more accolades in science and engineering, including two first prizes and one first-class award at the State Scientific and Technological Progress Award, as well as three first-class and seven second-class progress awards at provincial level.  In 2012, he was honoured as one of China's Top Ten Outstanding Technological Workers; the next year, he received the Prize for Scientific and Technological Progress of the Ho Leung Ho Lee Foundation, in recognition of his remarkable contributions in mechanics research and aerospace engineering.  In December 2013, he was elected an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.  In 2015, he was awarded the Guanghua Engineering Science and Technology Prize.  Earlier this year, Dr Zhou received the National Innovation Pioneer Award.

In 2008, Dr Zhou led a delegation from the Shenzhou-7 Manned Space Mission to visit The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and delivered a seminar to share their aerospace experiences with some 500 tertiary teachers and students.  At the seminar, Dr Zhou gave a comprehensive academic presentation of the Shenzhou-7 launch, spacewalk technology, and China's aerospace science development, during which a rare space flight documentary was screened.  Dr Zhou led a second delegation in 2013 to Hong Kong in which he visited CUHK, schools and government agencies.  That visit facilitated the organisation of the Space Science Experiment Design Competition for Hong Kong secondary school students.  The winning experiments were eventually carried into space on board Shenzhou-11.

The capacity to fly into space and explore the moon and beyond is a testament to China's scientific developments and technological advances.  It also symbolises the fulfilment of the Chinese dream of space.  Dr Zhou has played a vital role in China's aerospace development, and has contributed immensely to the aeronautic and astronautic engineering of the Shenzhou and Tiangong projects.  Mr Chairman, in recognition of his achievements in and contributions to China's space exploration, I have the great honour of presenting to you Dr Zhou Jianping for the award of the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.