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China Will Move Up Its Manned Lunar Landing and Robotic Research Station

April 25, 2019 (EIRNS)—Zhang Kejian, director of the China National Space Administration, announced during a speech yesterday celebrating the fourth National Space Day, that China “plans to send a manned mission to the Moon and to build a research station at the Moon’s South Pole within the next decade,” Xinhua reported. This is space agency director’s first official announcement of plans for a manned lunar landing. “Within the next decade” is an accelerated schedule from “the early 2030s,” which had been mooted by lunar scientists. Following the successful landing of Chang’e-4 in the South Pole regions, scientists said that a robotic research station would be built to conduct additional research, in preparation for a manned station.

This is a dramatic announcement, not only because of the accelerated timetable for both the landing and the research station, but because it is the first time China will have two manned missions underway at the same time. The space station, which is scheduled to go into operation in 2022, would still be operating at the end of the decade, at the same time as the Moon landing. These double manned missions would require an increase in not just funding, but also the deployment of manpower, recruitment of astronauts (which is underway), and other resources. It will mean a significant increase in capabilities.

On a related front, China announced today that the maiden flight of the Long March 5-B rocket will take place in the first half of 2020, carrying the core module of China’s Earth-orbital space station. This is an unusually higher-risk approach for the Chinese (and any) space program, as the first launch of any rocket in a new series generally carries a lower-valued satellite or other hardware.

Furthermore, a video clip released yesterday shows the core module of the space station having completed testing. The two science laboratory modules are now being assembled. The station is scheduled for completion in 2022.

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