China to explore moon's polar regions, mulling human landing

This screenshot taken at Beijing Aerospace Control Center on Nov 7, 2021 shows Chinese taikonaut Zhai Zhigang conducting extravehicular activities out of the space station core module Tianhe. - Xinhua

BEIJING (Xinhua): China will explore the moon's polar regions and is mulling over a manned lunar landing in the coming five years, according to a white paper released on Friday (Jan 28).

Titled "China's Space Programme: A 2021 Perspective," the white paper introduces China's purposes, principles, policies and measures, and cooperative mindset in its space exploration. It summarizes China's achievements in space science, space technology and space application.

"The space industry is a critical element of the overall national strategy, and China upholds the principle of exploration and utilization of outer space for peaceful purposes," the document reads.

The major achievements in China's space industry since 2016 include a steady improvement in space infrastructure, the completion and operation of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS), the completion of the high-resolution Earth observation system, steady improvement of the service ability of satellite communications and broadcasting, the conclusion of the last step of the three-step lunar exploration program, the first stages in building the space station, as well as Tianwen-1's landing and exploration of Mars, according to the paper.

It lays out key space areas China plans to focus on in the upcoming five years, concerning the space transport system, space infrastructure, manned spaceflight, deep space exploration, space launch sites and telemetry, tracking and command, experiments on new technologies, and space environment governance.

China is ready to explore the moon's polar regions and is mulling over a manned lunar landing. The country also vows to improve space debris monitoring and expand the space environment governance system with a near-Earth object defense system and space-ground space climate monitoring system planned, according to the white paper.

The country will further boost public services with satellites and expand space application industry.

The white paper, titled "China's Space Programme: A 2021 Perspective," said China will continue its studies and research "on the plan for a human lunar landing."

A new-generation manned spacecraft will be developed to support its exploration of the cislunar space, according to the paper.

It is part of the country's ambitious lunar exploration plan after its lunar probes landed on the far side of the moon in 2019 and brought back lunar samples last year, respectively.

In the next five years, China is planning to bring two more probes onto the moon to explore its polar regions, a place believed to contain water ice, especially in the deep, permanent shadows of some mountains and craters.

China will launch the Chang'e-6 lunar probe to collect and bring back samples from the moon's polar regions and launch the Chang'e-7 to perform a precise landing there and "a hopping detection" in lunar shadowed area, the paper said.

Liu Jizhong, director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), said at a press conference on Friday that Chang'e-6 will bring new samples from the moon regions of high value and Chang'e-7 will probe the water distribution on the moon.

China has signed an agreement with Russia for a collaborative lunar exploration with Chang'e-7 probe and Russia's "luna-26" orbiter, said Liu.

Wu Yanhua, CNSA's deputy director, said at the press conference that Chang'e-6, Chang'e-7 and Russia's lunar mission will fulfill in about five years the survey job before building a lunar research station.

Also, the country will complete R&D on the key technology of Chang'e-8 and push forward the building of an international research station on the moon with global collaboration, according to the paper.

China is going to launch Chang'e-8 lunar probe before 2030 to "probe the moon's polar regions and verify key technologies for the lunar research station," said Liu.

The program is a counterpart to Nasa's Artemis lunar exploration plans that try to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024, and establishes a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028.

Wu said China is planning to build, with another decade, a lunar facility like a small town.

"It will be equipped with energy system, communication and navigation system, long-distance transport system, space-to-ground round-trip system, ground support system, and life support system if humans are stationed there in the future," said Wu.

China's international cooperation will put stress on those missions by 2035 and after that, and multiple scientific investigations can be expected in accordance with different lunar probe task requirements of countries and organizations, according to Wu.

In the next five years, China will launch asteroid probes to sample near-Earth asteroids and probe main-belt comets, according to the white paper.

The white paper also revealed the country's technological preparations for Mars sampling and return, exploration of Jupiter system and boundary exploration of the solar system.

Back to near-Earth orbits, China plans to launch, in the next five years, two experimental modules and a space telescope, complete its space station, build a space lab onboard, and carry out large-scale scientific experiments with astronauts on long-term assignments.

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