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China plans crewed moon mission, tourism and Jupiter exploration in space race with the U.S.

A Long March-7 Y3 carrier rocket carrying the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft blasts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on May 29, 2021 in Wenchang, Hainan Province of China.
Yuan Chen | VCG | Getty Images

China plans to lay the foundation for lofty space achievements including exploration of the planet Jupiter and a crewed mission to the moon.

The move heats up another technological battlefront between the U.S. and China with the world’s second largest economy positioning to become a space superpower in the coming years.

Over the past few years, China has had some notable successes in space:

In 2020, China completed the Beidou, its global navigation system made of a network of satellites. Beidou is a rival to the U.S. government-owned Global Positioning System (GPS).
In 2019, China landed a spacecraft on the so-called dark side of the moon in a world first. In December, a Chinese spacecraft returned to earth from the moon with lunar rock samples in a first for the country.
Last year, China began work on its own space station and sent astronauts there.
China also landed an uncrewed spacecraft on Mars last year. China is only the second nation to land on the red planet. The first was the U.S.

With those achievements under its belt, Beijing wants to step up the game. The State Council — China’s top executive body — released a white paper last week laying out the recent successes and goals for the period between 2021 and 2025 as part of the nation’s five-year development plan.

Here are some of the key parts of the plan that Beijing wants to carry out:

Upgrade the spacecraft it uses and do more research into reusable rockets.
Develop new satellites for functions such as carbon monitoring in the atmosphere and also conduct research for the next generation of Beidou.
Launch its own space telescope called Xuntian and complete its own space station.
Focus on building new technologies such as the autonomous management of a spacecraft and how to clean up space debris, which has become a huge problem. Space debris or space junk can be nuts, bolts, parts of satellites or disused rockets that are floating around and can collide with other objects.

Moon, Mars and beyond

China said it will continue research and planning for a crewed lunar landing and develop new spacecraft for such missions. The plan also said China wants to work with other countries to build a research station on the moon.

But Beijing is looking beyond the lunar surface. Scientists want to complete research on how to get samples from Mars and study them. China also wants to lay the foundation for the exploration of Jupiter. China said last year it plans to send a crewed mission to Mars in 2033 and build a base there.

Advancing satellite technology can not only help make businesses on Earth more digital, it also has economic benefits, according to the State Council. It said this could also spur new businesses to form, including space tourism and biomedicine.

China said it will also continue research into “space physics” which includes the search for other habitable planets.

Beijing also plans to use its space station as well as its Mars and moon probes to conduct experiments and research on biology, life, medicine and materials.

Space governance

China and the U.S. are locked in a technological battle for dominance in everything from artificial intelligence to semiconductors, with their political differences already spilling into the space arena.

One example is a disagreement last year between the two nations over the so-called Artemis Accords, an agreement led by NASA that looks to create rules around responsible and fair space exploration. China did not sign up while other countries like Australia and the U.K. did.

Without mentioning the Artemis Accords in the five-year plan, China said it would work with other nations in areas from global governance to crewed space flights.

“Under the framework of the United Nations, China will actively participate in formulating international rules regarding outer space, and will work together with other countries to address the challenges in ensuring long-term sustainability of outer space activities,” the white paper said.

China also said it would “conduct dialogue with Russia, the United States and other countries” on global space governance.

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