An article in the February issue of Astronomy indicates that China is moving in leaps and bounds in space exploration. The article by Andrew Jones is entitled “China Is Embarking on a Science and Exploration Program of a Staggering Scale.”
Much of it has to do with their lunar exploration program and the commitment to put astronauts on the Moon before the end of this decade. And they are well within the framework of doing just that. China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) is developing a new rocket, the Long March 10, capable of putting 27 tons into lunar orbit. A pair of these rockets will send a crewed spacecraft (which has already flown in a high-orbit test) and a lander stack to the Moon; these will rendezvous in lunar orbit. A lunar lander, a rover (possibly commercially developed), and a lunar spacesuit are all in the works.
China this year has exceeded the United States in the number of satellites launched, having planned around 80 missions for 2023. It also aims to build its own 13,000 satellite-strong communications system to rival Elon Musk’s Starlink system.
But China has also been working hard in the areas of Solar System exploration, space science and planetary defense, and it plans several missions in these areas for the next decade. China also successfully launched and landed their own orbiter on Mars in the Tianwen-1 mission, which lasted more than the planned 90 days of activity. The mission also featured a Mars orbiter. China is furthermore considering a Mars return mission with Tianwen-3, which would include the first batch of Mars soil to be brought back to Earth. Additionally, the recent return mission from the Moon has yielded a good bit of knowledge regarding the structure of the Moon, its mineralogy and chemical features.
Commenting on the Chinese program, Prof. James Head III, a planetary scientist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who has been working with the Chinese, said, “They’re developing a community, and the community is really excited. … The China National Space Administration is also doing a really good job and building the community towards engineering interactions that are only going to strengthen the program further.”