Beijing aims to build a space station and a base on the moon, as well as send a probe to Mars by 2020 and carry out a mission to Jupiter by 2029.
Nasa held talks with the China National Space Administration (CNSA) about obtaining permission for US space scientists to use China’s Chang’e 4—China’s lunar exploration mission that made headlines by becoming the first probe to land on the dark side of the moon—for a collaboration on research. Beijing aims to build a space station and a base on the moon, as well as send a probe to Mars by 2020 and carry out a mission to Jupiter by 2029. China’s space agency, last week, also announced four more lunar missions, including Chang’e-5, which will be launched by the end of the year.
All this showcases China’s resolve to become one of the world’s major powers in space exploration. China only sent its first astronaut into space back in 2003, but has now caught up with Russia and the US. But, this seems to have triggered a paranoia in the American leadership, with the Trump administration creating a new space command for US armed forces as well as treating China as an economic and military rival—both the latest US National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy have identified China as a “major strategic rival”. At the same time, because China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) oversees most of what China does in space, there are justified concerns about China’s space goals. China is not alone in its ambitions on the moon, however. A Russian lander, scheduled for 2022, will look at the potential for resource extraction from the moon’s surface and Nasa is planning its first crewed mission around the moon in half a century in 2023. While the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, to which China, the US and Russia are signatories, explicitly forbids nations from laying claim to celestial resources, countries have developed ways to sidestep the treaty’s obligations that are legally binding. For instance, the US has encouraged private sector space exploration. Also, the provision in the Treaty that allows the State to retain jurisdiction and control over an object that it launches is likely to become a proxy for space colonisation. Doomsday predictions for Earth may not come true—or at least, not fully—but nations looking at colonising space, beginning with the Moon, may not be such a looney prospect.