China releases new space plan strategy in white paper

China has released a new white paper outlining the centrality of space to the country’s “overall national strategy” as well as major plans for the years ahead.

HELSINKI — China has released a new white paper outlining the central role of space in China’s “comprehensive national strategy” and major plans for the coming years.

Over the next five years, China will seek to develop space transportation capabilities, test new technologies, conduct exploration missions, modernize space administration, improve innovation and promote cooperation internationally.

Crewed lunar landings, in-orbit maintenance and planetary defense work are all cited as key areas for research and technical breakthroughs in the coming years, the document reveals, while offering a degree of transparency in a largely closed Chinese space industry.

The five-year white paper, titled “China’s Space Program: A Prospect for 2021,” was released by the State Council Information Office on Jan. 28, noting that the global space industry has entered a “new phase of rapid development and deep transformation” and presents the activities planned to meet new challenges and build on new skills.

“China’s space industry has made rapid and innovative progress,” Wu Yanhua, deputy director of China’s National Space Administration, said at a press conference on Jan. 28, citing recent achievements.

Wu highlighted the completion of the Beidou navigation satellite and CHEOS high-resolution Earth observation systems, the success of backtracking and sample missions, the start of space station construction and a first interplanetary mission with Tianwen-1 as major achievements.

China releases new space plan strategy in white paper (Picture: Andrew Jones)
China releases new space plan strategy in white paper (Picture: Andrew Jones)

Exploration goals for the next five years include the launch of the Chang’e-6 lunar sample return and Chang’e-7 complex missions, both to the South Pole of the Moon, a lunar sample return of asteroids, a comet rendezvous mission, research and development of key technologies for the precursor mission to the Chang’e-8 lunar base, and conducting key technology research on the Mars and Mars sample return missions on Jupiter.

Space transportation plans include launching a next-generation crew launcher within five years, developing high-thrust solid-fuel rockets and accelerating the development of heavy launchers.

China will also “continue studies and research on the manned lunar landing plan…and explore key technologies to lay the foundation for cislunar space exploration and development,” the newspaper said.

Research into key technologies for reusable space transportation systems and the development of new rocket engines, combined cycle propulsion – likely related to spaceplane projects – and upper stage technologies are also mentioned as priorities.

China is believed to be working on many of the elements needed to land astronauts on the Moon, possibly towards the end of the decade.

China’s launch rates more than doubled to 207 launches in 2016-2021 from the previous five years. While 186 of them were Long March launches – including new Long March missiles 5, 6, 7, 8 and 11 – were commercial vehicles like Smart Dragon-1, Kuaizhou-1A, Hyperbola-1, Ceres -1 and other assets, illustrated this emergence of a sector of private and commercial launchers.

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