China aiming to land astronauts on the Moon before 2030

Space race between the US and China heats up as both nations look to put humans on the lunar surface within this decade

Chinese officials said last week the country is planning a 'short stay on the lunar surface and human-robotic joint exploration'.  Photo: AFP
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China is planning to complete a crewed mission to the surface of the Moon before 2030, officials said.

Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the Chinese Manned Space Agency, told reporters that the country was preparing for a “short stay on the lunar surface and human-robotic joint exploration,” according to AP.

Officials made the announcement at a media briefing at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre that was held for the three astronauts that launched to China's Tiangong space station last week.

They also revealed plans to expand the station by adding a fourth module to it.

“We have a complete near-Earth human space station and human round-trip transportation system,” Mr Lin said.

China has previously said that it planned to achieve lunar landing capabilities by the end of the decade, with both the US and China targeting the same region on the Moon.

US space agency Nasa is working towards sending humans to the lunar surface in this decade under its Artemis programme, and plans to send a crewed mission around the moon in 2025.

Race to the Moon

A number of decades have passed since the former Soviet Union and the US were in the first space race, but now there is similar competition between the US and China.

Nasa administrator Bill Nelson told Politico in an interview in January that the US space agency should “watch out” for China.

“It is a fact: we’re in a space race,” he said.

“And it is true that we better watch out that they don’t get to a place on the Moon under the guise of scientific research.

“And it is not beyond the realm of possibility that they say, ‘Keep out, we’re here, this is our territory.’”

Nasa's uncrewed Orion spacecraft successfully completed a test flight around the Moon last year. Photo: Nasa

China has plans to build the International Lunar Research Station on the Moon and is looking to Russia for a partnership.

Five facilities and nine modules are planned, which are intended to support long and short missions to the Moon's surface and orbit.

Meanwhile, the US has plans to build the Lunar Gateway – a small station in the Moon's orbit that astronauts would live in before descending on to the lunar surface.

Nasa has been awarding contracts to private companies to expedite its Artemis programme.

SpaceX and Blue Origin have been hired to develop human lunar landing systems for the space agency.

China now a major space power

China has a thriving space sector that includes human flights to its new space station, planetary, lunar and deep-space exploration, a satellite navigation system and the continued development of its space transport system.

China completed 2,017 missions between 2016 and December 2021, including 183 by the Long March carrier rocket series.

The country has already landed robotic missions on the Moon and Mars.

When Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield tweeted a story on China's plans to land astronauts on the Moon before 2030, billionaire Elon Musk replied: “The China space programme is far more advanced than most people realise.”

Why don't China and the US work together in space?

China is gradually opening up its military-run space programme to other nations, and is inviting countries to contribute to its lunar research station.

It also said that it would open up its space station to astronauts from other countries.

But the US is unlikely to work with China anytime soon.

The Wolf Amendment, passed by US Congress in 2011, prohibits Nasa from engaging in direct or bilateral co-operation with the Chinese government or China-affiliated organisations.

The rule came into effect when China was accused of using American intelligence to enhance its missile technology.

Updated: June 05, 2023, 11:49 AM