China’s Information Office of the State Council on December 27 released an expansive white paper on that country’s space activities in 2016, and projected looks at its space agenda in coming years.

In an associated press conference marking the release of the white paper, vice administrator of the China National Space Administration, Wu Yanhua, stated that China plans to develop a new generation of heavy-lift carrier rocket, the “Changzheng-9” or “Long March-9.”

That booster is intended for future manned lunar landing and deep space exploration missions, according to a report by

Vice administrator of China National Space Administration, Wu Yanhua, speaks at Dec. 27 briefing unveiling a white paper on Chinese space development 2016.

Wu said during the press conference: “There is an old saying in aerospace industry, ‘If you want to develop space industry, you need to work on space rockets first; and if you want to develop space rockets, you need to work on its engines first’. So now we need to make progress in the heavy-lift carrier rocket’s engine first, to create conditions for the whole project. It is planned that the heavy-lift carrier rocket’s maiden flight will be held around 2030.”

Wide-ranging white paper

In the wide-ranging white paper, China’s space program purposes, vision and principles of development are spotlighted, including major developments since 2011, as well as major tasks for the next five years.

The document also includes policies and measures for development and the role of international exchanges and cooperation.

In terms of deep-space exploration, the white paper explains that China will continue its lunar exploration project, and strive to attain the automated extraterrestrial sampling and returning technology by space explorers.

China’s Moon program intends to support a lunar sample return in 2017.
Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences


Three strategic steps

“We plan to fulfill 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 realizing regional soft landing, sampling and return. We will launch the Chang’e-4 lunar probe around 2018 to achieve mankind’s first soft landing on the far side of the moon, and conduct in situ and roving detection and relay communications at earth-moon L2 point.”

Also, noted is that through China’s lunar exploration project, topographic and geological surveys will be implemented and laboratory research conducted on lunar samples; 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.

A Chinese Service Module practiced steps needed for the Chang’e 5 mission, slated for 2017 – a multi-module spacecraft that would land, collect, and return to Earth lunar samples.
Credit: China Space Website

Next lunar probe

At the press conference hosted by the State Council Information Office, Wu also detailed work underway on Chang’e-5, targeted for liftoff at the end of 2017.

“We will take samples from the surface of the moon as well as different depths of the moon rocks after drilling, and the samples will be used by scientists for scientific research,” Wu said.

Wu added that work related to Chang’e-5 is going smoothly.

Mars and beyond

Explained in the white paper is that China intends to execute its first Mars exploration operation, and grasp key technologies for orbiting, landing and roving exploration.

China plans to launch this Mars probe by 2020 to carry out orbiting and roving exploration.

Credit: CCTV/China

“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. When conditions allow, related projects will be implemented to conduct research into major scientific questions such as the origin and evolution of the solar system, and search for extraterrestrial life,” the paper explains.


Raising human spaceflight capacity

In the category of human spaceflight, the white paper notes that China plans to launch the Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft to dock with the now Earth-orbiting Tiangong-2 space laboratory, “and research and master key technologies for cargo transport and replenishment to accumulate experience in building and operating a space station.”

“We strive to acquire key technologies and conduct experiments on such technologies,” the paper continues, “to raise our manned spaceflight capacity, laying a foundation for exploring and developing cislunar space.”

China’s 60-ton medium-size space station is depicted in this artwork.
Credit: CNSA

Launch site network

In June 2016 the Wenchang Launch Site held its first launch, marking a new-generation launch site designed and built by China. Renovations have also been accomplished in the Jiuquan, Taiyuan and Xichang launch sites, “forming a launch site network covering both coastal and inland areas, high and low altitudes, and various trajectories to satisfy the launch needs of manned spaceships, space laboratory core modules, deep space probes and all kinds of satellites,” the document explains. “The integrated capacities and functions of space launch sites will be enhanced and exploited to meet various needs.”

Historical starting line

The white paper concludes by noting that the country is “standing at a new historical starting line,” with China “determined to quicken the pace of developing its space industry, and actively carry out international space exchanges and cooperation.”

Since 2011 China has signed 43 space cooperation agreements or memoranda of understanding with 29 countries, space agencies and international organizations.

For the full, multi-part white paper — China’s Space Activities in 2016 — go to:

To view CCTV-Plus videos of the press event and release of the white paper, go to:

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