China Sets Five-Year Plan for Space Exploration

Astronomers say a Chinese rocket is expected to hit the moon on March 4. It was the latest example of China’s presence in space. News of the possible collision came after Beijing published blueprints for satellite development, space exploration and placing more astronauts in Earth orbit.

Experts expect Beijing to be able to realize the targets laid out in its five-year plan for space development, regardless of the predicted collision incident.

China’s space program will rival Russia and America, especially when it comes to the commercialization of space technology, they added.

“China has to watch out for increasing competitiveness,” said Marco Caceres, a space studies recruit at market analysis firm Teal Group. “Partly because the US was so far ahead that countries like China, whose economies are growing very fast, could catch up.”

Met Past and Future

China launched its first satellite in 1970 and put the first Chinese in space in 2003, becoming the third country in the world, after Russia and the US, to reach the milestone. In 2019, a Chinese spacecraft made a historic landing on the far side of the moon. Beijing is in the process of adding another space station, in addition to Tiangong, by the end of this year.

China was ejected from the International Space Station, a cooperative operation between Europe, the US, Russia, Canada and Japan, due to US national security concerns.

Over the next five years, Beijing’s space program will put people in space on “long-term assignments” for scientific research, completing discoveries on Mars and exploring the Jupiter system, according to “China Space Program: A 2021 Perspective.”

The next half decade will see improvements and capacity building of its space transportation system, and China will “continue to improve its space infrastructure” through integrating remote sensing, communications, navigation and satellite positioning technologies, the document says.

China is expected to meet all of its annual targets because they have been working on them for the past decade or so, with a lot of government funding, analysts say.

This photo released by Xinhua News Agency shows a screen at the Beijing Space Control Center showing astronaut Liu Boming exiting the core module of China's new space station in outer space on Sunday, July 4, 2021. (Photo: Xinhua via AP/Jin Liwang)

This photo released by Xinhua News Agency shows a screen at the Beijing Space Control Center showing astronaut Liu Boming exiting the core module of China’s new space station in outer space on Sunday, July 4, 2021. (Photo: Xinhua via AP/Jin Liwang)

The January report actually “combined” what they were already working on, said Richard Bitzinger, a defense analyst with the Defense Budget Project, a non-profit research institute in Washington. It’s technically possible that China could mine ore on the asteroid, Bitzinger said, although doing so requires complex work, such as anchoring and drilling.

Many of the milestones in the blueprint are meant to display peaceful goals and a positive international image, he added. “Most manned space programs are symbolic in nature,” Bitzinger said. “From an economic point of view, they are selling at a loss, but in terms of showing strength, the programs are perfect.”

The blueprint states that China’s future space missions will remain “peaceful,” despite Washington’s suspicions that China’s space program will be directed towards military purposes.

Commercial momentum

Advances in China’s space program have allowed the country to be more “aggressive”, Caceres said, than the US in marketing modern satellites and launch services. Its budget may grow faster than NASA’s, he added. China’s space-related equipment can be found in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the analyst said.

Countries such as Australia and Japan are already using China’s space-based remote sensing data after natural disasters. Russia and China tentatively agreed in September to open a joint lunar research base.

“China calls on all countries to work together to build a future global community and carry out deep-space exchanges and cooperation on the basis of equality, mutual benefit, peaceful use and inclusive development,” the Chinese embassy in Washington said in a statement. VOA on Wednesday (16/2).

Some of the countries that are geographically closest to China are still sticking with US space technology, despite China’s willingness to get involved, said Alan Chong, a lecturer at the Singapore-based S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

The Myanmar government, for example, resents China for its infrastructure debts and projects that people see as irrelevant to their lives, the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies finds.

“I think the situation is fluid, and I don’t think Southeast Asia would be comfortable in China’s orbit,” Chong said. “Of course the region has never been as intimate as it is now with China in the last 15 years, but I think the US still has a chance.” [rd/em]