China said it will launch a lunar probe in 2018 to achieve the world’s first soft landing on the far side of the moon to showcase its ambitious space programme. China will continue its lunar exploration project in the next five years, and strive to attain the automated extra-terrestrial sampling and returning technology by space explorers, a White Paper titled ‘China’s Space Activities in 2016’ released said.
China has already landed a rover on the moon in the past but wants to explore the dark side of the lunar surface to carve out a niche for itself as it has not been done by other countries. “The lunar probe Chang’e-4 will conduct in situ and roving detection and relay communications at earth-moon L2 point,” the white paper said. The probe plans to fulfil the three strategic steps of “orbiting, landing and returning” for the lunar exploration project by launching the Chang’e-5 lunar probe by the end of 2017 and realising regional soft landing, sampling and return, it said.
Through the lunar exploration project, topographic and geological surveys will be implemented and laboratory research conducted on lunar samples, it said. “Geological survey and research as well as low-frequency radio astronomy observation and research will be carried out targeting the landing area on the far side of the moon for a better understanding of the formation and evolution of the moon,” it added. It also said China plans to launch its first Mars probe by 2020 to carry out orbiting and roving exploration.
China’s plan earlier to reach out Mars has not succeeded and it wants to catch up with other countries including India to enter Mars. “China intends to execute its first Mars exploration operation, and grasp key technologies for orbiting, landing and roving exploration,” the paper said. It will conduct further studies and key technological research on the bringing back of samples from Mars, asteroid exploration, exploration of the Jupiter system and planet fly-by exploration, according to the white paper.
The paper also highlighted several of China plans to achieve major discoveries and breakthroughs in the frontier areas of space science including formation of BeiDou network consisting of 35 satellites for global navigation services by 2020 to rival America’s Global Position System, (GPS). China will start providing basic services to countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-century Maritime Silk Road in 2018, it said.
China also plans to set up its permanent space station by 2022.
China also plans to launch a hard X-ray modulation telescope to study the matter dynamics and high-energy radiation processes in the strong gravitational field of compact celestial bodies and black holes.