The New Space Race

China has had its eyes, and rovers, on the moon for the last two decades. At the moment the country has the Chang´e 4 rovers, named after the Chinese lunar goddess, up and working at the far side of the moon. China has had mapped out its next missions until 2024 for a while. Chang´e 5 would be the first time China attempts a sample return mission, set to launch this year. Chang´e 6 would be the back-up rover for Chang´e 5. In case the Chang´e 6 would be redirected to the south pole if its precursor is successful.

For 2024 and beyond the Chinese missions are getting a lot more ambitious. Chang´e 7 is part of the next phase of moon missions that will prepare the nation to set its first taikonaut on the Moon. The lander will carry topography cameras similar to those on the last two rovers China send to the Moon.

Scientists are also excited about the additional scientific payloads the rover will carry, among those will be a ¨mini-flying-craft¨ that will analyze water molecules on the dark spots of the moon. Finding good resources of water ice is deemed to be crucial for the success of a long term moon mission. It provides both drinking water as a fuel source when water is converted into hydrogen with the help of energy harvested by solar panels.

Chang´e 8 will be the clearest step to long term Chinese manned exploration of the moon. While not much is known about its payload yet, it will likely have the instruments aboard to test 3D printing on the moon. The printer will be used to test how to use local resources to print tools and structures.

Model of the new launch vehicle for human spaceflight on display in Zhuhai in 2018.
Model of the new rocket used for human spaceflight (Image: © CASC)

China has also unveiled that it is working on a launch vehicle build for human space travel. It would send about 25 metric tons into trans-lunar injection. The rocket is set to dwarf China´s current largest rocket, the Long March 5. The new 87-meter tall rocket will weigh up to 2200 tons, three times as much as the Long March 5.

“The world is seeing a new wave of lunar exploration, crewed, or uncrewed. International cooperation projects in crewed lunar exploration are intertwined and influence each other,” Zhou Yanfei, deputy general designer of China’s human spaceflight program, told Chinese media. “For example, we need our spacecraft to have the ability to reach the moon and return. But the transportation capacity of our Long March rockets cannot satisfy the demands. Currently, our Shenzhou Spaceships in low Earth orbit are unable to meet the needs of the moon landing, either. Also, we need a lander for the mission,” Zhou said.

While the Americans have won the race to the moon over half a century ago, it will be exciting to follow how this, and if this, will reignite a new space race. This time to the red planet and beyond.

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