HELSINKI — A Chinese space official has urged the country to speed up its plans to develop lunar infrastructure or miss an opportunity that will never be repeated.
Yang Mengfei of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the country’s top space contractor, suggested in early March that China should seize the opportunity to build lunar infrastructure using capabilities that countries already have.
“Now is the critical time for the space infrastructure to expand to the Earth-Moon system,” Yang said, according to a CASC statement.
“At present, the United States, Europe and Japan have proposed relevant plans for Earth-Moon space infrastructure, but they have not yet entered the stage of in-orbit construction,” Yang said.
“For our country, it is now an important opportunity to seize the opportunity and lead the industrial market for the Earth-Moon. It will have a great impact and far-reaching significance.”
Yang stressed that in terms of the industrial market, China is facing a critical moment and an opportunity that will “never come again”.
Yang stated that China “has not clearly laid out a unified plan for the development of the Earth-Moon infrastructure” and noted weaknesses in the top planning, resources and development of the country’s aerospace industry.
He suggests that China seize the opportunity to implement the Earth-Moon space infrastructure planning as soon as possible, including communication, navigation, surveillance and other services, cultivate new pillar industries and build a China-led international cooperation platform.
This would contribute to China’s national strength and promote a community for a common future for mankind, according to CASC.
The statement noted that the moon offers “rich material resources and unique environmental resources” and that its development and use will greatly promote “the national economy and people’s livelihood, and will become a new pillar of the national economy in the future,” according to the statement . machine translation.
Yang, who is commander-in-chief and chief designer of the Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission, presented the proposal as a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee during the country’s annual political sessions in Beijing in early March. The CPPCC acts as an advisory body to the central government.
The moon is becoming a focal point for spacefaring nations’ plans for exploration, science and potential competition for resources, observers say, with China already active.
China is the only nation to have soft-landed on the moon in the 21st century, including a first-ever landing on the other side using a relay satellite. It has also revealed plans and sought partners for one International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) in cooperation with Russia in the 2030s.
The US, meanwhile, is leading a group of space actors through Artemis program and the Artemis Agreement, to which 23 countries have joined.
As a further illustration of the new and diverse interest in the Moon, a commercial Japanese lander is currently underway in the orbit of the moonpreparing for a landing attempt at the end of April.
China has already completed major lunar exploration, high-resolution Earth observation, Beidou positioning and navigation, and space station projects. These have laid a good foundation in terms of management, technology, materials and talent for subsequent large-scale Earth-Moon exploration and development, according to Yang.
The government has approved the plans for the multi-spacecraft Chang’e-7 and the Chang’e-8 lunar south pole mission for the coming years. These include landers, rovers, orbiters, water-ice-hunting jumping craft, in-situ resource utilization tests, and support from relay satellites. The missions are predecessors to the ILRS.
However, China faces a number of challenges in planning and building its lunar infrastructure.
CASC’s Long March 9 super-heavy lift rocket – which would enable major space and lunar infrastructure missions – is about to redesigned to be reusable. However, this will likely delay the debut flight of the rocket until the 2030s.
In the diplomatic arena, it is reported that the collaboration with the United Arab Emirates to send a small rover on the Chang’e-7 mission has fell through due to complications caused by the US government’s International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).
Its main partner Russia, meanwhile, is facing widespread international isolation in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine, which could seriously affect the country’s space sector through sanctions, supply chains and the deterioration of budgets and willing partners.
Yang’s proposal is not the first time a CASC official has made a call for a lunar megaproject. In recent years, CASC‘s Bao Weimin has called for the creation of one Earth-Moon space economic zoneand claims it could create $10 trillion in annual economic benefit for China by 2050.
Yang’s proposal, as part of the CPPCC process, will be one of thousands made this year in all fields.
In the past, space officials Ye Peijian and Wu Weiren have proposed Mars missions and the establishment of a national laboratory for deep space exploration when members of the CPPCC.
These were realized in the Tianwen-1 orbiter and rover mission launched in 2020 and the Deep Space Exploration Laboratory (DSEL), established in 2022. However, the Earth-Moon system proposal is on the order of a mega-project and requires large resources.