China ramps up space exploration as U.S. program shrinks

On Thursday, China unveiled a five-year plan for its space exploration program that includes putting laboratories in space, building space stations and collecting samples from the moon.

On Thursday, China unveiled a five-year plan for its space exploration program that includes putting laboratories in space, building space stations and collecting samples from the moon.

As for that last goal, they'll start collecting samples with probes, but, as previously announced, they eventually want to put a person on the moon -- though that will not happen in the next five years.

China's bid to become a global player in the space race comes just as the U.S. program is being scaled back in scope and funding.

However, so far, China's accomplishments in space put it where the U.S. was in the 1960s. Its major breakthroughs include becoming the third country after Russia and the U.S. to send a human into space and completing a spacewalk.

Still, the plan signals that the country, which has consistently stuck to its space program development timeline, will continue on a slow and steady course to accomplish its aims.

“I think it is a comprehensive, moderately paced program,” John M. Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, told the New York Times. “It’s not a crash program.”

The Times article continues:

By contrast, NASA’s direction tends to shift with every change of presidency. President George W. Bush called on NASA to return to the moon by 2020. President Obama canceled that program and now wants the agency to send astronauts to an asteroid. NASA shut down its 30-year space shuttle program after a final flight in July.

Details of China's five-year space plan

China's space program is run by its military, and so some of its plans have both civilian and military uses.

Global positioning system

Among the many goals released in the government white paper is an ambitious plan to further develop its global positioning system, called the Beidou Navigation Satellite System, which began this week to log data on navigation, positioning and timing in China and the surrounding region.

The country's goal by 2020 is to have 35 satellites in orbit that collect data from around the world. Such a system would be comparable to an existing Russia system and close, though not as advanced as the U.S. system. While it would help the Chinese military, it would also be used for civilian purposes such as helping drivers navigate.

Sending more spacecraft into orbit and more people into spaceflight

The country also laid plans to achieve two larger goals: developing new launch vehicles that could send heavier spacecraft into orbit, and advancing conditions for human spaceflight.

To those ends, they plan to launch space laboratories, manned spaceships and space freighters. Additionally, they will work on space station technologies used in medium-term stay of astronauts, regenerative life support and propellant refueling.

Deep-space exploration and upgrades of satellites

China fleshed out its lunar exploration goals, with a plan to launch orbiters that would make soft lunar landings, do roving and surveying, and collect moon samples. Meanwhile, the country will also develop technology to monitor space debris and study black holes.

Lastly, China plans to further work on small satellites that can monitor the environment and forecast disasters.

Related on SmartPlanet:

photo: Top: China's Xichang Satellite Center (AAxanderr/Wikimedia); Lower: The launch of Chang'e One Lunar Satellite, at Xichang Satellite Launch Center, China. (AAxanderr/Wikimedia)

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