China’s space program has been making significant progress in recent years, including successful missions to the moon with robotic spacecraft.
1. Taikonauts on the moon
China will land astronauts — or taikonauts — on the moon within the next seven years, according to a leading Chinese lunar scientist. “By 2030, the Chinese people will definitely be able to set foot on the moon. That’s not a problem,” Wu Weiren, Chief Designer of China’s lunar exploration program, told Chinese broadcaster CCTV on April 18, ahead of the country’s national “space day”, celebrated on April 24.
China has been developing a range of new technologies and capabilities to support future human missions to the moon, such as new rockets, spacecraft, and lunar landers. The country said work is in progress to develop the necessary hardware for landing astronauts on the moon. While work is underway on the lunar lander, China is developing a next-generation rocket to launch an upgraded crew spacecraft.
2. Test flight
The new rocket is scheduled for a test flight in 2027, while the new spacecraft has already flown an uncrewed mission. In 2020, China’s space agency launched the Chang’e 5 mission, which successfully returned samples from the moon’s surface. This marked a major milestone for China’s space program and demonstrated their growing capabilities in space exploration.
China has been conducting test flights to space for several decades, with its first manned space mission taking place in 2003. Since then, China has launched several manned and unmanned missions to space, including crewed missions to its Tiangong space station, which was launched in April 2021.
Earlier this year, Wu Yansheng, chairman of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the country’s main space contractor, presented an animated sequence revealing what the future Chinese crewed lunar landing might look like. The mission referred by Wu Weiren would allow a short-term stay on the lunar surface. But China’s ambition goes further.
3. Permanent base
The country’s plans include the setting up of a permanent base, known as the International Lunar Research Station, which is planned to be constructed in the 2030s. For this massive engineering project to come true, the Chinese are planning several robotic missions to the lunar south pole. These missions will test 3D printing technology in order to create Lego-like bricks from lunar soil.
“For questions of whether we can build a house, make bricks and have access to communication services on the moon, they are expected to be verified by Chang’e 8 experiments, which will provide a guarantee for large-scale lunar scientific exploration in future,” Wu said, referring to a robotic mission scheduled to launch in 2028.
4. International partners
China is seeking partners for the venture, just like the United States is joining forces with other nations for its Artemis program. Artemis II is due to carry the first astronauts to lunar orbit in 2024 and sometime in the middle of the decade during Artemis III, two astronauts will land near the lunar south pole.
“The International Lunar Research Station built by China is open [to international partners]. We welcome the participation of developed countries such as the United States and European countries. We also hope that BRICS countries and some developing African countries will join us,” Wu said. The BRICS include Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Wu said the country put forward an initiative for all interested countries to sign contracts, deals or strategic agreements of intent for future space cooperation.