As people around the world were celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) reached a different kind of milestone. The China Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) was examined by researchers, producing a encouraging report on the exploration of space by that nation since 2007.
This study, a clean bill of health for 30-year plan for the future of China in space, was profiled in a new journal article, published in Science. Their 30-year plan to explore the Moon, if successful, would make China a world leader in space exploration.
In a first-of-a-kind mission, the Chang’E-4, accompanied by the Yutu 2 rover, landed on the far side of the Moon on January 3, 2019. This pair of spacecraft created 3-D Moon maps in unprecedented detail, and discovered mantle material from beneath the crust deposited on the lunar surface. This finding could provide details of massive impacts from objects in the ancient past.
“Fifty years after Neil Armstrong took, ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ as the first human to set foot on the Moon, China’s CE-4 lander and Yutu 2 rover left the footprints of humanity’s first robotic visit to the surface of the far side of the Moon,” said LI Chunlai, Deputy Director-General of National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academies of Science (NAOC).
Those Aren’t Pennies from Heaven
“Well there’s hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come
Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground…”
—James Taylor, Fire and Rain
On July 19th, the CNSA lost their orbiting habitat, the Tiangong-2, launched in 2016. The space station entered the Earth just after 9 AM Eastern, over the South Pacific Ocean, as engineers expected. This space lab was tiny — just a single compartment 10.4 meters (34 feet) long, and 3.35 meters (11 feet) wide. This vehicle provided just enough space to hold two taikonauts with its confines.
Re-entry of this vehicle was expected, following more than 1,000 days of space. Engineers expected the mission to last just two years. Nearly all the material from the spacecraft was consumed by heating during re-entry, and any random debris which may have survived the inferno crashed harmlessly into the South Pacific.
Back to the Future
This diminutive orbital outpost, as well as the vehicles before and after it in the series, was designed as a test craft on a two-year mission, preparing for a larger space station. Construction will begin on the larger outpost in 2020, when CNSA launches the first component, the Tianhe-1 core module.
Plans for three decades of space exploration by China were laid out in the China Lunar Exploration Program, published in 2007.
Two of the three earlier missions in the Chang’E program orbited the Moon in 2007 and 2010, while the third launch placed a lander and rover on the near side of our nearest neighbor in space in 2013.
Chang’E 5 is scheduled to launch in 2020 on a journey to the Moon, where it will collect samples from the lunar surface, and return them to Earth. If successful, this mission will mark the third phase of CLEP. This event would be the first lunar return mission to be carried out since 1976.
The future of the program includes the Chang’E 6 and 7, each designed to survey the lunar south pole, study the environment of the region, and search for resources.
“Chang’e 7 is planned to make detailed surveys of the south polar region of the Moon, covering the terrain, geological composition, locations of water ice, and space environment. One of the primary objectives will be to detect water ice in permanently shadowed areas and determine its origin,” NASA describes.
The eighth launch in the program will test technologies required to build a lunar base. The mission will also collect surveys and conduct experiments. No launch dates have yet been announced, but this trio of missions are all expected to lift off in the 2020’s.
A Meeting at the Water Cooler, Perhaps?
The Lunar Scientific Research Station planned by China will be a robotic research center, which could be expanded in the future to house human travelers. This outpost will likely be constructed near the south pole of the Moon, where water ice has been detected hiding within the eternal shadows inside craters.
“Li and his team hope these developments will eventually translate to great strides in scientific application through a Lunar Scientific Research Station. The plan is to have the station in place by 2030 to carry out technical verification and scientific validation of various experiments, with the ultimate goal of hosting astronauts for long-term stays on the Moon,” the Chinese Academy of Sciences reports.
Water found at the south pole is likely to make that region of the Moon a popular locale for both robotic and human explorers in the coming decades. Not only would space travelers be able to take advantage of the water supply, but ice can easily be converted into hydrogen and oxygen, and utilized as fuel. Oxygen, of course, could also be used as a component in the air, providing a breathable atmosphere for lunar travelers.
Chinese researchers are hoping that other nations work with them, in order to further science and knowledge, as well as to blaze trails for the colonization of our planetary neighbor. China invests more in their space program than any other nation except for the United States.
"The Moon belongs to all of us. Just as the Apollo program played a positive role in promoting the development of human society, China will work with countries around the world in its forward-looking lunar and deep space exploration projects,” LI stated.
Chang’E, an ancient Goddess of the Moon, appears to be looking with favor upon China’s burgeoning effort to understand the nature of our next-door neighbor.
Did you like this article? Subscribe to The Cosmic Companion Newsletter!