It’s no secret that China has also made impressive progress in its space program, in addition to China’s growing economic strength and international influence. And the country intends to impose a little more in 2018.
As announced on Tuesday, January 2, the Society of Aerospace Science and Technology of China (CASC), the country this year will double the number of launches compared to the year 2017, during which she hoped to do better. Out of some 30 launches planned, only 18 actually took place. These included the lunar return mission Chang’e 5, which was finally postponed following the failure of the second flight of the Long March 5 rocket in July. But for the year 2018, more than 40 launches are announced, including the return of the Long March 5 rocket, the Chang’e 4 mission, a lunar spacecraft whose launch is scheduled for late 2018 and the deployment of several satellites.
In addition, Landspace Technology, a private aerospace company based in Beijing, is also expected to launch its LandSpace-1 rocket this year. In January 2017, Landspace signed a contract with the Danish satellite manufacturer GOMspace to become the first Chinese company to develop its own commercial rockets that would provide services in the international market.
But the culmination of Chinese space exploration this year will be the return of the Long March 5 rocket, and the launch of the Chang’e 4 mission. Unlike the previous ones, this one will involve a soft lunar landing. The mission will consist of a relay orbiter, a lander and a rover whose main purpose will be to explore the geology of the South-Aitken Pole Basin, the largest basin of impact of the Moon’s surface – and even the solar system – with about 2,500 kilometers in diameter and 13 kilometers deep.
For decades, this basin has indeed been a source of fascination for scientists. In recent years, several missions have confirmed the existence of icy water in the region. Determining this extent is one of the main goals of this mission. The LG will also be equipped with an aluminum case filled with insects and seeds that will test the effects of lunar gravity on terrestrial organisms. These studies will play a key role in China’s long-term plans to mount crewed missions on the moon, and possibly plan the construction of a lunar outpost.
Other missions expected include the deployment of more than 10 Beidou GNSS satellites – the Chinese version of GPS satellites – in the medium Earth orbit (MEO). A number of other satellites will be sent into orbit, with missions ranging from Earth and ocean observation to meteorological and telecommunications tools. Overall, 2018 will be a busy year for China’s space program.