China joined the space race a little late, but it has made significant progress in the last decade. Now the China National Space Administration (CNSA) is planning to set up a lunar outpost. The Chinese space agency is working with the European Space Agency (ESA) on the mission. There is no timeline for when the “moon village” would be established or operational, but it does indicate that Beijing has huge ambitions in space exploration.

China Europe Setting Up Moon Village
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China, Europe’s ‘moon village’ could be launch pad for Mars missions

Tian Yulong, the secretary-general of CNSA, said Monday that the agency was discussing “possible cooperation” with its international counterparts including the ESA to setup an international “moon village.” The European Space Agency spokesman Pal Hvistendahl confirmed the discussions about a human outpost on the moon.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Hvistendahl said Beijing already had a “very ambitious moon program” in place. The space market has changed significantly since the USA vs. USSR space race in the 1960s. The ESA was open for international collaboration to “explore space for peaceful purposes.” Johann-Dietrich Woerner, the director general of ESA, has described the upcoming “moon village” as a launching pad for future Mars missions.

The lunar outpost will also be used to conduct research and explore space tourism and commercial mining projects. Tian Yulong said the country’s Chang’e-5 probe would accomplish its mission of collecting lunar rock samples by the end of this year. Next year, the CNSA plans to send a probe to the far side of the moon to collect samples for analysis. The moon is tidally locked to our planet, so we always see the same side of the moon. The 2018 mission, Chang’e-4, would help shed light on the chemical composition, formation and early evolution of the moon.

The moon village would eventually become a city

At this point, the European Space Agency’s collaboration with China is limited to participating in the analysis of samples brought back by the Chinese mission. The ESA also plans to send a European astronaut to the currently unoccupied Chinese space station at a future date. For the so-called “moon village,” the ESA plans to start using robots in the 2020s to construct facilities. The first inhabitants will be sent years later.

Jiao Weixin, an astronomy professor at Peking University, told the Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times that China’s participation in the construction of the international “moon village” shows the country’s open-mindedness. The lunar outpost could provide unique opportunities to study the moon in great detail, said Jiao. He added that Beijing should stick to its own agenda of lunar exploration rather than trying to catch up with other countries.

Jiao Weixin believes the “moon village” would eventually transform into an entire “city.” It could also become an attractive tourist destination someday. Beijing aims to become a space superpower by 2030 with an advanced space infrastructure and aerospace industry. China sees the space industry as a symbol of national prestige. The country plans to launch its first Mars mission by 2020, and then explore the Jupiter system to find out answers to questions about the origin and evolution of our solar system.

CNSA’s military connections

China had been excluded from the International Space Station because of US concerns over the Chinese space agency’s strong military ties. The country’s military-backed space program has started challenging the dominance of other space agencies. In 2015, Beijing tested anti-satellite missiles capable of destroying enemy satellites.

The move had alarmed the US, but China reiterated that it was against the space arms race and it was committed to a peaceful use of space. The US Department of Defense argues that the CNSA was pursuing activities aimed at destroying the critical space assets of its adversaries in the event of a conflict.