China plans to build a scientific research station on the moon in “about 10 years,” according to the state news agency Xinhua.
The China National Space Administration intends to build the research station in the region of the moon’s south pole, Zhang Kejian, head of the agency, said in a public statement, Xinhua reported. That’s a bit of a departure from the six successful NASA Apollo moon landings, which took place closer to the moon’s equator between 1969 and 1972.
Details of China’s long-term lunar plans are still sketchy, but its space agency has made significant steps toward exploration of the moon. This year, the Chinese successfully landed the unmanned Chang’e-4 on the far side of the moon, and have also placed astronauts aboard two temporary space stations, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2. Their space agency also plans to put a larger, more permanent station into orbit in the coming years.
The first parts of that permanent station will reach orbit aboard the country’s new Long March-5B rocket in the first half of 2020, Agence France-Presse reported; the mission will not be associated with the International Space Station, which is reaching the end of its operational lifetime. Plus, the United States and China do not cooperate on spaceflight endeavors.
Kejian also announced that Chang’e-5, an unmanned lunar lander originally scheduled for launch in 2017, will attempt to reach the moon and return with samples in 2019, Xinhua reported.
China spends more on spaceflight than any country except the United States, according to AFP. At the moment, the United States is unable to put humans in space without hitching a ride on a Russian rocket; plans to change that model by using for-profit rockets — such as those owned by SpaceX — have hit snags.
Still, U.S. officials have also suggested that there are plans to return to the moon and stay on it for an extended period in the near future.