China’s Ambitious Space Plans: What are they and can they be achieved by 2016?

Yesterday, China unveiled its space plans up to 2016. One of the most ambitious ones is to put an astronaut on the surface of the Moon. This feat hasn’t been accomplished since 1972 with Gene Cernan being the last to step off the lunar surface (Appolo 17).

What are China’s plans?

  1. Launch space labs and manned ships and prepare to build space stations over the next five years
  2. Continue exploring the moon using probes, start gathering samples of the moon’s surface, and “push forward its exploration of planets, asteroids and the sun.”
  3. Improve its launch vehicles, improve its communications, broadcasting and meteorological satellites and develop a global satellite navigation system, intended to rival the United States’ dominant global positioning system (GPS) network
  4. Use spacecraft to study the properties of black holes and begin monitoring space debris and small near-Earth celestial bodies and build a system to protect spacecraft from debris

Can China pull it off?

It is quite possible since China has been make remarkable progress in this area in recent years.

In 2003, China became the third country behind the U.S. and Russia to launch a man into space and, five years later, completed a spacewalk. Toward the end of this year, it demonstrated automated docking between its Shenzhou 8 craft and the Tiangong 1 module, which will form part of a future space laboratory.

In 2007, it launched its first lunar probe, Chang’e-1, which orbited the moon, collecting data and a complete map of the moon.

Since 2006, China’s Long March rockets have successfully launched 67 times, sending 79 spacecraft into orbit.

What does this mean for us?

Some elements of China’s program, notably the firing of a ground-based missile into one of its dead satellites four years ago, have alarmed American officials and others who say such moves could set off a race to militarize space. That the program is run by the military has made the U.S. reluctant to cooperate with China in space, even though the latter insists its program is purely for peaceful ends.

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