Chang’e-5 lunar lander.
Credit: CCTV Video News Agency/Inside Outer Space screengrab

A plan released Friday in Beijing by the Space Department of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) underscores the country’s Moon and Mars plans for 2020.

Credit: CCTV Video News Agency/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s current lunar program is divided into three phases: orbiting, landing, and returning, and the first two phases have been accomplished.

China is drawing up a plan for the fourth phase of the lunar exploration program, said Peng Jing, deputy chief designer of the Chang’e-5 probe with the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

“We temporarily call the follow-up mission as the fourth phase of the lunar exploration program. The preliminary goal we set is to establish a lunar research base through two to three missions. In the foreseeable future, it will be an unmanned scientific research base for the long term, where people would make a short visit,” Peng said in a CCTV broadcast.

Jia Yang, deputy chief designer of Mars probe with CAST.
Credit: CCTV Video News Agency/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Red planet probe

China is set to launch a robotic probe to Mars this year, landing on the Red Planet in 2021.

The robotic probe will consist of three parts – the orbiter, lander and rover.

Testing facility for China’s Mars lander.
Credit: CGTN

The rover will have six wheels and four large, blue butterfly solar panels. It will carry 13 scientific instruments and weigh more than 440 pounds (200 kilograms) and operate about three months on Mars, notes Jia Yang, deputy chief designer of Mars probe with CAST.

In November 2019, China unveiled an experiment simulating the process of a probe hovering, avoiding obstacles and descending to land on Mars.

The experiment was held on a trial ground, the largest one in Asia for test landing on extraterrestrial bodies, in Huailai County, north China’s Hebei Province.

New crew-carrying spacecraft

In terms of human spaceflight, the just released plan notes that China will test its new generation crewed spacecraft in 2020.

The craft is different from the previous Shenzhou series and will be a two-cabin structure, will be larger and reusable, according to CCTV. China will carry out full-scale in-orbit flight tests for the new spacecraft to verify the key technologies such as high-speed reentry thermal control.

China’s space station scheduled to be operational in 2020’s.
Photo credit: CMSA

“It is a future-oriented manned space shuttle. We will try to use some new thermal structures and reusable technologies to reduce its operating costs. So basically, with the new technologies, we will expand our capability to carry people to and back from space,” said Ma Xiaobing, deputy chief designer of manned spacecraft at the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

Long March-8.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Booster developments

The CASC released a bluebook for China’s space science and technology activities, outlining new booster development:

Long March-5B, a smaller variant of the Long March-5, will make its maiden flight in 2020.

Long March-7A will fill the gap of Chinese launch vehicles with a carrying capacity of 5.5 to seven tons to high orbit. It will be mainly used for launching missions to the geostationary transfer orbit and will also take its first flights in 2020. It is expected to be launched in the first half of this year, said Hu Xiaojun, the deputy chief designer assistant of Long March-7 carrier rocket.

Long March-8 flyback booster.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Long March-8, whose payload capability reaches around 4.5 tons to sun-synchronous orbit with an altitude of 700 kilometers, is expected to make its maiden flight in 2020.

A CCTV video shows the Long March-8 having a recoverable first stage, then landing on an ocean-stationed platform, a similar concept to that pioneered by the U.S. company, SpaceX.

“We want to make it a cost-effective carrier rocket which is highly usable and safe to use. We want it to be a vital new force and the main force to compete in the commercial rocket market at home and abroad,” said Wu Yitian, deputy chief engineer of Long March-8 carrier rocket.

Video resources

To view videos of China’s 2020 plans, go to

China to Launch Chang’e-5, Mars Probes in 2020 at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrshYgZDno4

China is ushering in a phase of super space programs at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unkMH-kpeyg

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