To the moon and back: China sets new targets in race to be No 1 space power
- Fifth white paper on China’s space programme focuses on both technological and business aspects of space exploration
- National Space Administration will transfer more technologies to develop ‘new forms of space economy’, says official
More lunar landings, an asteroid defence system and space debris cleanups are among major aims for China as the country steps up its ambitions to become a leading space power.
Many of these capabilities are also now pursued by the US and Europe.
The paper lists space debris cleaning as a business focus, a category that also includes space tourism, test services, and space biopharmaceuticals, underscoring China’s plans to speed up the participation of the private sector in outer space.
The China National Space Administration will transfer more aerospace technologies to companies engaged in communication, navigation, and remote sensing businesses, in order to develop “new forms of space economy”, deputy director Wu Yanhua said.
He also pledged that China would be more open on working with international partners “on higher levels and larger projects”.
“For example, China and Russia will jointly launch the international lunar scientific research station plan – which is a major long-term international scientific cooperation project. We welcome the participation of all interested countries, international organisations, and scientists and engineers,” Wu said.
Amid international finger-pointing over space debris, targeting also Russia and the US, China has launched a number of “scavenger” satellites fitted with robotic arms capable of capturing and removing space debris so that they would burn up upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
But the US said the technology “could be used in a future system for grappling other satellites” and was therefore of concern to its military.
China’s space debris removal capability recently caught the attention of US observers again, after commercial space monitoring firm ExoAnalytic Solutions said the Shijian-21 satellite – China’s latest model for the “experimental validation of space debris mitigation technology” – appeared to be functioning as a space tug.
The report said Shijian-21 appeared to have pulled a malfunctioning Beidou navigation satellite out of the heavily populated geosynchronous orbit.
The Chinese space authorities did not respond to the report.
Expected launches for China next year include the Wentian and Mengtian space lab modules, the Xuntian space station telescope, a manned Shenzhou spacecraft and a Tianzhou cargo spacecraft.
The Tiangong space station is also set to finish construction and become fully operational.