Monday, August 7, 2017

China Eyes Manned Lunar Landing by 2036

China's Yutu rover on the moon. Credit: CNSA

Recent bold statements made by Chinese officials suggest that the country is constantly moving forward towards the ultimate goal of its ambitious space program - a manned landing on the moon.

China is the third country, after the Soviet Union/Russia and the U.S., which has independently send humans into space. In October 2003, Yang Liwei flew onboard the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft, becoming the first Chinese in orbit. He now serves as the deputy director general of China Manned Space Agency.

"China is making preliminary preparations for a manned lunar landing mission,” Liwei said in early June, Xinhua state news agency reports.

Liwei made a speech during the 2017 Global Space Exploration Conference in Beijing on June 6. Some of his remarks were in reference to the future of the Chinese lunar exploration program.

He noted that it will not take long for the manned lunar landing project to get official approval and funding. During the conference he was also asked whether he has any plan to step onto the moon.

"If I am given the opportunity, no problem!" Liwei replied.

China intends to realize the plan of a manned landing on the moon by 2036, according to a state official who revealed this deadline last year.

Now, Wu Yansheng, the president of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), also confirmed that the country is working on fulfilling the envisioned manned lunar landing program. He revealed that the proposed mission will consist of a manned spaceship, a propulsion vehicle and a lunar lander. According to him, the manned spaceship and the lunar lander will be sent into circumlunar orbit separately.

No further details about the project were disclosed by Chinese officials. However, during the last month’s conference, China announced that it will carry out at least four manned spaceflight missions over about five years in order to build its space station.

According to Liwei, the launch of the first core module of the space station is scheduled for 2019, what will be followed by launches of two experiment modules. Two manned space missions are currently planned to be conducted in 2020, while station is expected to be fully completed in 2022. So far, Beijing has sent into space two Tiangong space laboratories, designed to key technologies for the need of the future modular space station.

China has already made huge steps towards the realization of its ambitious lunar exploration program. In December 2013, the country’s Chang’e 3 has successfully reached the moon becoming the first spacecraft to soft-land on the lunar surface since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 in 1976. The mission deployed a lander known as “Yutu”, which operated on the moon, sending data for over one year. Next unmanned lunar mission, Chang’e 4, is currently planned for December 2018, while the country’s first sample return mission, designated Chang’e 5, is scheduled for 2019.

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