Moon mission on the horizon

Updated: 2011-12-30 07:14

By Xin Dingding (China Daily)

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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.

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