Earth to space, companies add value through innovative technologies

Chinese Shenzhou XIV astronauts Chen Dong (right) and Liu Yang exit the space station’s Wentian Laboratory Module on Sept. 1 and use a robotic arm to install new instruments outside the Tiangong space station. This photo is upside down. [Photo by Xu Bu/For China Daily]

It’s easy for consumers to buy food and drinks like, say, a bowl of hot rice and mineral water online or from neighborhood stores, but for astronauts, such things are more of a luxury.

Crew members on China’s Shenzhou manned space flight last year, however, were able to enjoy such a meal and snack thanks to Joyoung, a Chinese home appliance company. Joyoung innovates his technology to create an amazing space kitchen for the astronauts. A drinking water dispenser, an air heater and a soy milk maker were accessible in the kitchen via a smart app.

There were more consumer technologies customized for the spacecraft. A vacuum cleaner enables trimming by generating negative pressure that sucks up the trimmed hair so it doesn’t fly around or get into nooks and crannies.

China’s private sector is growing in importance, emerging from the long shadow of state-owned enterprises that dominated business and industry for decades. Private enterprises are now using their latest technologies to contribute to even large national projects. Moreover, they also help the country to achieve technological advancement.

The Central Economic Work Conference in mid-December emphasized the importance of working unwaveringly both to consolidate and develop the public sector and to encourage, support and guide the development of the private sector.

Indeed, from small private enterprises in provinces such as Zhejiang and cities such as Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, to Internet enterprises leading global technological advancements, China’s private sector has become home to a variety of pioneers that help drive economic growth and innovative development as both at home and abroad.

In recent years, they have contributed about 50 percent of the country’s tax revenue, 60 percent of GDP, 70 percent of technological innovation and 80 percent of urban employment, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Tan Hongbo, who was part of the crew of the Shenzhou manned spacecraft, told a news briefing that during his three-month trip he was able to eat a hot meal in just half an hour’s effort, a contrast to the past when such attempts required several hours.

“If we had time, we would also use custom devices to eat homemade yogurt. We can also control these smart devices in the space kitchen through mobile phone apps,” he said.

In the past, most aerospace foods were wrapped in aluminum foil, so they could not be heated directly in a microwave oven. Conductive devices often cause uneven heating. An astronaut had to spend four hours to heat up some vegetables in the space kitchen.

To solve the problem, Joyoung developed a device that pumps hot air to heat vegetables 360 degrees. The gadget allows astronauts to even eat shredded pork with hot steam and fish and chicken flavor Gongbao, a spicy, deep-fried Chinese dish.

Besides Joyoung, a group of private enterprises including Xiaomi Corp and Huawei Technologies have contributed their technologies to the development of the space station.

NOLO VR, a Chinese virtual reality manufacturer, has helped astronauts develop an experimental device through which laboratory technicians on the ground can see and experience live what astronauts are doing in space.

Wang Peng, an associate professor at the Hillhouse Research Institute at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said: “China’s technological prowess will continue to play a big role if private and smaller enterprises remain robust, given that many of them are increasingly are recognized for their role as leaders in new concepts and new business models.”

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