China’s Five-year plan for its space missions – China’s 2021 perspective white paper

China has released its plans for space exploration over the next five years, detailing ambitious goals that include strengthening its space infrastructure and developing a next-generation spacecraft for carrying people to space, last month. The country is also researching how it could possibly land people on the Moon in the coming years, and move forward to Mars and beyond, even planning to send orbiters to Jupiter in the long run.

A Brief Overview of China’s Most recent achievements in space

  • The Chang’e 4 robotic mission made history by landing softly on the moon’s far side for the first time. Chang’e 5 returned pristine lunar samples to Earth in December 2020.(More on China’s Moon mission here).
  • In July of 2020, Tianwen-1 launched, becoming China’s first interplanetary mission to take to space. The Tianwen-1 mission includes a Mars orbiter, lander, rover, cameras, and various other science instruments. This also made China to be the only country to be successful to do so on is maiden attempt.(More on China’s Mars Mission here.)
  • China is also in progress of building its own space station, the Tiangong. It has already launched the core module of the station, Tianhe, and has begun its construction, with the station in construction already housing a crew of 4 astronauts, sent aboard the Shenzhou crew capsule.(More on China’s Space Station here.)

Key Points to note From China’s white paper

  1. The Long March carrier rockets are being modified to make them non-toxic and pollution-free, and they are getting smarter as a result of modular technology. China will continue to increase the capacity and performance of its space transportation system during the next five years, as well as accelerate the upgrading of launch vehicles. It will continue to invest in essential technologies for reusable space transport systems and perform test flights in support of those efforts.
  2. With the launch of new and better satellites, the relay satellite system is being updated, resulting in a significant increase in capacity. China is now able to provide remote-sensing satellite data reception and speedy processing services all over the world, thanks to additional advancements to the ground infrastructure of its remote-sensing satellites.
  3. China will continue to strengthen its space infrastructure over the next five years, integrating remote sensing, communications, navigation, and positioning satellite technology, and building on its current BeiDou navigational satellite systems.
  4. Manned Spaceflight: China will continue to implement its manned spaceflight programme over the next five years.
  5. The Wentian and Mengtian experimental modules, as well as the Xuntian space telescope, the Shenzhou manned spacecraft, and the Tianzhou freight ship, will all be launched.
  6. Complete China’s space station and continue operations, build a space laboratory on board, and have astronauts on long-term assignments performing large-scale scientific experiments and maintenance;
  7. Continue to research and study the plan for a human lunar landing, create new-generation manned spacecraft, and investigate important technologies in order to establish the groundwork for exploring and exploiting cislunar space
  8. China will focus on new technology engineering and application, conduct in-orbit tests of new space materials, devices and techniques, and test new technologies in areas like self-management of spacecraft, Innovative space propulsion, In-orbit service and maintenance, and Space debris cleaning.
  9. China plans to continue to expand its space environment governance system by strengthen space traffic control, improving space debris monitoring system, plan near-earth object defense systems, etc.

Into the future: China on International Space cooperation

China has reaffirmed its intentions to work with international partners to build an international research station on the Moon, in correspondence with its future Chang’e missions. It’s unknown by when China intends to finish this station or when it hopes to send manned missions on the moon’s surface. However, while China makes progress toward the Moon, NASA is planning its own ambitious lunar landing. Artemis, the US space agency’s current primary human spaceflight programme, aims to bring the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface as soon as 2025. Hence China can be effectively seen engaged in a space race against the US, both its government body NASA, and its private coordinator SpaceX.

Other than the moon, China has plans to send more probes to Mars and bring back samples for further extensive study. Planning even further, it has already cited plans to send manned missions to Mars too as soon as it succeeds with its crewed Moon landing, completes its space station Tiangong, and moves forward with the aforementioned sample collection plans for Mars. There are even long shot plans to extend these programs to help venture beyond, and send a powerful orbiter to Jupiter and create history. If successful, China will firmly establish itself as the major space superpower in the current era, riding on the current wave of success it has received for its recent space missions.

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