China has announced its plans for space exploration over the next five years, with ambitious goals such as strengthening its space infrastructure and developing a next-generation spacecraft to transport people to space. The country is also investigating how it could potentially land humans on the moon in the coming years.
the road map, detailed in a new white paper released today, would continue China’s ambitious progress on space travel. In recent decades, the country has placed great emphasis on expanding its space capabilities, increasing the frequency and scope of its launches, and entering new areas such as robotic exploration of Mars. China has also launched a long-term campaign of lunar exploration, sending a series of landers and rovers to the lunar surface every few years. In 2019, the country was the first to land a rover on the far side of the moon, and in 2020, China returned samples from the moon to Earth.
investigating how humans could land on the moon in the coming years
Given China’s focus on the moon, it has been expected for years that the country would eventually attempt to land humans on the lunar surface as well. As the country’s lunar program has progressed, China has also made significant strides in its human exploration program. In 2021, the country launched the core module of a new space station that will be built in orbit. There are currently three astronauts living on board the station.
Before trying to send humans to the lunar surface, China wants to continue studying the moon with probes. The white paper outlines plans to send two additional robotic spacecraft to the moon within the next five years to study the moon’s polar regions, areas of the lunar surface thought to be home to water ice. The first of the two probes will return lunar samples, while the second will do a “jump detection” in an area in permanent shadow. The country will also study plans for its next lunar probe, working with international partners to “build an international research station” on the moon, according to the white paper.
It is unclear when China plans to complete this station or when it plans to land humans on the lunar surface. But as China pushes toward the moon, NASA is working on an ambitious moon landing of its own. The US space agency’s main manned space program right now is Artemis, which aims to send the first woman and first person of color to the lunar surface as early as 2025. In addition to human lunar landings, Artemis also calls for robotic exploration of the lunar surface with an array of landers and rovers.
While the moon has always been a major focus for China, the country is also looking to explore other planets in our solar system. It hopes to launch probes to near-Earth asteroids in the next five years, and study ways to send spacecraft to the Jupiter system and back to Mars, with plans to return samples from the Red Planet.
The white paper lists a host of other space goals, such as building China’s space station, updating satellite technologies, improving space transportation and rocket systems, creating new rocket engines, and more. It’s quite a long to-do list for the next half-decade, but so far China has made it clear that space exploration is a priority.