China presents ambitious space plans for the next 5 years

China’s next five years in space could be even busier than the previous five.

On Friday, Jan. 28, the nation released a white paper outlining its plans and priorities for the next half-decade of spaceflight and exploration. China has accomplished a lot in the final frontier recently, from returning moon samples to Earth to start assembling a space stationand the document makes clear that the country plans to build on these successes.

“Over the next five years, China will integrate science, technology and space applications while pursuing the new development philosophy, building a new development model, and meeting the requirements of high-quality development,” said the white paperwhich is titled “Chinese Space Program: A 2021 Perspective”.

“This will start a new journey towards [becoming] a space power,” the paper’s authors write. “The space industry will further contribute to China’s overall growth, global consensus and common effort regarding the exploration and use of outer space. -atmospheric and to human progress”.

Related: The latest news on the Chinese space program

China launched 207 space missions from 2016 to December 2021, the white paper noted. That’s an impressive tally, but the nation isn’t content with its current stable of pitchers.

“Over the next five years, China will continue to improve the capacity and performance of its space transportation system and accelerate the upgrade of launch vehicles,” the document said. “It will further expand the family of launch vehicles, send next-generation manned carrier rockets and high-thrust solid-fuel carrier rockets into space, and accelerate R&D. [research and development] heavy launchers. »

China has launched Tianhe, the central module of its new space station, in April 2021 and sent two three-astronaut missions to the orbiting lab soon after, one in June and another in October. The country plans to complete construction of the station this year, a task that will see the launch of two more modules, known as Mengtian and Wentian.

In addition, China is building a space telescope called Xuntian, which will launch into the same orbit as the space station and periodically dock with it.

Xuntian will be launched within the next five years, the new document says. And the space station will be well trained during this stretch; astronauts will live there on “long-term missions”, carrying out various research and maintenance activities.

China is also aiming to put boots on the moon in the relatively near future, a bold goal that will get some serious attention over the next five years. Over the next half-decade, China “will continue studying and researching the human lunar landing plan, developing next-generation manned spacecraft, and researching key technologies to lay the foundation for exploration and development.” development of cislunar space,” the white paper says.

In January 2019, Chinese robotics Mission Chang’e 4 became the first to achieve a soft landing on the far side of the moon. In December 2020, Chang’e 5 brought pristine lunar samples back to Earth, the first time this had been done since the 1970s. And in February 2021, the first all-Chinese interplanetary mission, Tianwen 1, slipped into orbit around Mars. In May of that year, a rover called Zhurong separated from the Tianwen 1 orbiter and successfully landed on the Red Planet.

China intends to register more success in robotic exploration in the next five years. According to the white paper, on this stretch, the nation will launch the Chang’e 6 sample return mission to a lunar polar region; launch Chang’e 7″ to achieve precise landing in the moon’s polar regions and skipping detection [of water ice, presumably] in the lunar shadow zone; “and complete research and development on important technologies for Chang’e 8, which is designed to help laying the groundwork for a lunar research outpost. (Chang’e 6 and Chang’e 7 are both targeted for the mid-2020s, and Chang’e 7 will likely take off first.)

China will also launch a mission (called Zheng He) that will both return samples from an asteroid and study a comet up close, according to the paper. And there’s more.

Over the next five years, the nation will also “complete key technological research on Mars sampling and return, Jupiter system exploration, etc., as well as “study plans for the exploration of the limits of the solar system,” the white paper said. .

“Boundary exploration” is an apparent reference to a mission that would send twin probes to the edge of the heliosphere – the huge bubble of charged particles that the sun blows around it – and beyond, into interstellar space. China aims to launch this mission in the mid-2020s, according to SpaceNews.

“China’s Space Program: A 2021 Perspective” is the fifth five-year space exploration plan released by China, following similar releases in 2000, 2006, 2011 and 2016. You can read the new document in English. here.

Mike Wall is the author of “The low(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom Or on Facebook.

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