According to Chinese mythology, the giant Kua Fu chased the sun in order to stop it from scorching Earth, but died of thirst before he could capture the fiery star. A Chinese space mission named after the legendary figure has met a similar demise: Starved of international support and funding, the KuaFu solar observatory has been suspended indefinitely, and project backers acknowledge that it is unlikely to be resurrected.
First proposed in 2003 by scientists at Peking University, KuaFu was intended as a solar wind observatory placed at Lagrangian point L1—an area of space between Earth and the sun where gravitational forces of the two bodies cancel each other out. Around the same time, space physicist Eric Donovan at the University of Calgary in Canada proposed using two satellites in highly elliptical Earth orbit to image the aurora 24/7. William Liu, then at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), brought the two ideas together into a single mission to track solar outbursts and geomagnetic storms using three satellites. (Donovan contributed significantly to KuaFu’s original mission concept, Liu says.) CSA took on an even larger role in 2009 when it pushed for its own polar communications and weather satellites, which would fly in orbits similar to KuaFu’s two auroral imagers.