China’s space transportation capabilities will be developed, new technologies will be tested, exploration missions will be launched, space governance will be modernised, innovation will be enhanced, and international collaboration will be boosted over the next five years.
The report shows that crewed lunar landings, on-orbit servicing, and work on planetary defence are all identified as major areas for research and technical advances in the future years, while also providing some transparency into China’s largely closed off space industry.
The State Council Information Office released a once-every-five-year white paper document on Jan. 28 titled “China’s Space Program: A 2021 Perspective,” which notes that the global space industry has entered a “new stage of rapid development and profound transformation,” and outlines activities planned to meet new challenges and build on new capabilities.
“China’s space sector has progressed rapidly and innovatively,” Wu Yanhua, deputy head of the China National Space Administration, said at a press conference on Jan. 28.
Wu cited the completion of the Beidou navigation satellite and the CHEOS high-resolution Earth observation systems as major achievements, as well as successful lunar far side and sample-return missions, the start of construction on a space station, and the first interplanetary mission with Tianwen-1.
Launch of the Chang’e-6 lunar sample-return and the complex Chang’e-7 missions to the moon’s south pole, a joint asteroid sample-return and comet rendezvous mission, research and development on key technology for the Chang’e-8 lunar base precursor mission, and completion of key technological research on Mars sample-return and Jupiter missions are among the exploration goals for the next five years.
The report also indicates that China will “continue studies and research on a human lunar landing plan… and investigate critical technologies to establish a basis for exploring and developing cislunar space.”
China is said to be developing many of the components required to land astronauts on the moon by the end of the decade.
Within the next five years, NASA wants to fly a new-generation crew launch vehicle, build high-thrust solid-fuel rockets, and accelerate the development of heavy-lift launchers. Priorities include research into critical technologies for reusable space transport systems and the development of new rocket engines, as well as combined cycle propulsion — which is likely tied to spaceplane projects — and upper stage technologies.
In comparison to the preceding five years, China’s launch rates more than doubled, with 207 launches from 2016 to 2021. While 186 of these were Long March launches, including the new Long March 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11 rockets, commercial vehicles like as the Smart Dragon-1, Kuaizhou-1A, Hyperbola-1, Ceres-1, and others were also active, demonstrating the growth of a private and commercial launch sector.
In addition to addressing key challenges, China plans to improve its space traffic management system, cataloguing database, and early warning services, execute in-orbit spacecraft maintenance, test a mission extension vehicle, and engage in space debris mitigation.
China has advanced in areas such as very high throughput satellite telecommunication payloads, satellite-ground high-speed laser communications, and electric propulsion.
In-orbit tests of new space materials, smart self-management of spacecraft, mission extension vehicles, innovative space propulsion, in-orbit servicing, and planning for a near-earth object defence system will be priorities over the next five years.
The “next-generation Beidou” system will also undergo research into navigation-communications integration, low-orbit augmentation, and other essential technologies.
It is stated in the report in order for the world community to gain a better understanding of China’s space sector. However, it leaves out the country’s space-related military capabilities and goals.
It also ignores the national “satellite internet” initiative and accompanying megaconstellation, as well as positions on subjects like space resources. However, according to the report, the drafting of a national space law, which is now in the works, will be accelerated.
In general, China would “actively participate in the formulation of international regulations regarding outer space,” according to the report, and will “work with other countries to address the issues in guaranteeing long-term sustainability of outer space activities.”
A variety of initiatives and projects by space players outside of the China National Space Administration and principal space contractor CASC, such as commercial plans by CASIC and space science missions under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, are barely mentioned.
The Einstein Probe, SVOM, a China-France partnership, and gravitational wave and solar physics missions are among the new space science programs.
Following a policy reform in 2014 to open up the space sector to private financing and the completion of the Beidou system, there is a greater emphasis on commercial operations and uses.
China encourages all countries to “carry out in-depth exchanges and collaboration in outer space on the basis of equality, mutual benefit, peaceful usage, and inclusive development” in the sphere of cooperation.
“Guided by the vision of a global community of shared future,” the white paper continues, “it will cooperate aggressively with other countries to conduct international space exchanges and cooperation.”