Research into rocket for manned lunar landing part of national plan
BEIJING - Preliminary research on a "giant leap" to the moon has been included in the government's plans for the next five years, according to a white paper issued on Thursday.
The white paper, China's Space Activities in 2011, said that research on a heavy-thrust carrier rocket - vital for launching manned spacecraft to the moon - will be carried out in the next five years.
The white paper is the third one issued on space activities by the State Council Information Office. The other two were published in 2000 and 2006.
However, Zhang Wei, spokesman for the China National Space Administration, said that there is no timetable for a manned moon landing.
Experts said that despite China's achievements in manned spaceflight and lunar exploration it needs a different type of technology, especially for the launch, to land a man on the moon.
In the first manned lunar mission in 1969 the United States used a Saturn V launch vehicle, which can send a payload of 120 tons into low Earth orbit, to carry the 50-ton Apollo-11 to the moon, said Pang Zhihao, deputy editor-in-chief of the monthly publication Space International.
"Compared with manned capsules that orbit the Earth, spacecraft built for manned moon landings are much heavier and need to travel over longer distances. Therefore, a powerful launch vehicle is necessary," Pang said.
Currently the largest launcher in China, the Long March-5, is designed to send a maximum payload of 25 tons into near-Earth orbit and a payload of 10 tons into higher geo-stationary orbit. It will be used for transporting large satellites and sections of space stations.
However, it lacks the required thrust for a moon mission.
Enhancing space transport capability is one of China's goals for the next five years, Zhang said.
Scientists are now developing a new series of carriers, including Long March-5 and two other smaller rocket carriers, Long March-6 and 7.
Long March-6 will be a high-speed response launch vehicle. Long March-7 will be capable of carrying a payload of 5.5 tons.
A moon mission is not the only focus, Zhang said.
Work was also being carried out on constructing a framework of Earth observation, communication and navigation satellites. Meanwhile, work was continuing on manned space missions, lunar exploration and navigation systems.
Around 2013, a Chinese lunar probe will land on the moon and release a rover on the surface, the second stage of the three-stage lunar exploration plan.
The third stage, which will see samples brought back from the moon, will also start during the next five years, the paper said.
The country will also look into deep space and carry out planetary exploration and study asteroids, the sun and the solar system.
Zhang said that China's first Mars probe, Yinghuo-1, was still orbiting the Earth, as the Russian Phobos-Grunt spacecraft it hitchhiked on failed to fire two booster engines that would have set it on course for the Red Planet. The probe was launched in Kazakhstan on Nov 8.
"Russian scientists are still trying to rescue the spacecraft, and are keeping us informed," he said.
China is organizing special demonstrations on the feasibility of carrying out independent exploration of the Red Planet, he said without confirming future cooperation on Mars missions with Russia.
As for manned spaceflight, the white paper said two spacecraft will be launched next year to dock with space lab prototype Tiangong-1, which was launched in September.
In the next five years, space labs, manned spacecraft and cargo spacecraft will be launched to prepare for building a space station, it said.
Earlier, space experts said that China will maintain its impressive launch schedule over the next five years
China carried out 19 launches and sent 21 spacecraft into orbit in 2011, ranking second in the world. Russia took first spot with 36 launches and the US came third with 18 launches.
Since 2006, China carried out 67 launches, sending 79 spacecraft into orbit - 74 manmade satellites of various kinds (including four imported satellites), two lunar probes, two spacecraft and a target spacecraft for docking.
Addressing worries about China's increasing space presence, Zhang said that China adheres to a principle of a peaceful space program.
Satellites have benefited the country's economic and social development, he said.
Fengyun weather satellites, for example, have predicted all of the nearly 100 typhoons that made landfall on China since 1998, he said.
In the past five decades, the China National Space Administration signed 66 cooperation pacts with 22 countries.