China could soon become the first country to soft-land a probe on the dark side of the moon. A China National Space Administration (CNSA) official said Tuesday that the country was planning to go for “strength and size” in its space program. In a white paper released by the State Council Information Office, Beijing vowed to speed up the expansion of its space program.
China to launch Mars mission by 2020
According to the white paper, Beijing plans to soft land its Chang’e-4 probe on the dark side of the moon by around 2018. The probe would “conduct in situ and roving detection and relay communications at earth-moon L2 point.” The moon is tidally locked to the Earth, so we always see the same side of our lunar companion. The Chang’e-4 probe would help shed light on the formation and early evolution of the moon.
The white paper reiterated the country’s plan to launch its first mission to Mars by 2020. It would bring back samples from Mars, and explore the Jupiter system. The country would work to find out answers to scientific questions related to the origin and evolution of our solar system, and look for extraterrestrial life.
Beijing committed to peaceful use of space
Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to transform China into a space power. The country’s military-backed space program has made significant progress in the last few years. Last year, Beijing tested anti-satellite missiles that could destroy enemy satellites. The paper says China is committed to a peaceful use of space, and is against a space arms race.
The growing space industry is seen as a symbol of national prestige by the Chinese. Though Beijing has said on several occasions that its space program is for peaceful purposes, the US Department of Defense has pointed out that the Chinese space agency was pursuing activities aimed at destroying the space-based assets of adversaries in the event of a conflict.
The military angle of China’s space program
The paper added that the space program should also meet the demands of “economic, scientific, and technological development, national security and social progress.” It didn’t elaborate on the national security part, but China included nuclear weapon development and missiles as part of the history of its space program. Over the last 60 years, the country has made significant advancements in space technology including the “development of atomic and hydrogen bombs, missiles.”
Beijing launched its first crewed space mission in 2003, becoming the third country to do so after the United States and Russia. Last month, two Chinese astronauts spent 30 days aboard the Tiangong 2 experimental space laboratory. China also landed its Yutu rover on the moon in 2013.