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Russia, China Eye Human Expeditions to the Moon, Beyond

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
March 5, 2011
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As the 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight approaches. Russia and China are laying out their plans for human missions to the Moon and beyond. They are similar in schedule if somewhat different in scope, with Russia seeing international cooperation as the key while China weights building a monster rocket capable of lifting 130 metric tons into orbit.

Roscosmos PAO says that agency Head Anatoly Perminov has outlined his nation’s plans as such:

  • flights to the Moon in the mid-2020s
  • creation of lunar research laboratories in the 2030s
  • first exploratory missions to Mars by the early 2040s;
  • advanced nuclear propulsion for human missions to Mars and elsewhere
  • international cooperation on most stages.

“The proposals are now being scrutinized,” Perminov said. “The ultimate choice will, of course, be determined by the government’s financial abilities. In my opinion, most of those projects could be implemented in cooperation with other countries. Take the Moon, for example. Lunar research and the creation of human settlements on the Moon could involve countries that are currently working on the International Space Station. This would minimize our expenses and would also make it possible to take rocket and space hardware from countries which are the best at making them, for instance, heavy carrier rockets from the Americans and manned spacecraft and descent modules from Russia.”

The nation also has ambitious plans for deep space exploration that it wants to conduct with substantial international cooperation:

Russia is looking into the possibility of creating a nuclear-powered transport and energy module having no analogues in the world and offering certain advantages in terms of space exploration.

“We have teamed up with [the state nuclear energy corporation] Rosatom to design and build such transport and energy units for an interplanetary flight, for the far space, for the exploration of such planets as Mars,” Perminov said. “The existing engines propelled by solid or liquid fuel will make an interplanetary flight too long, which is not safe for man. Here, flight duration could be shortened by dozens of times. Yet it does pose another challenge – we will need a radiation shield. We are going through all those issues.”

The latter project is deemed as highly promising and has riveted the attention of other countries. Anatoly Perminov said that it too could be brought to life through international efforts. Russia is in turn ready to join space hotel construction planned by the United States. Russian specialists would be glad to provide the necessary assistance to make those seemingly incredible projects more reliable.

A large group of NASA officials under the U.S. space agency’s Administrator Charles Bolden will come to Moscow in the middle of April with the joint exploration of the solar system expected to be high on the agenda. As Anatoly Perminov said, both sides have something to offer each other.

Meanwhile, China’s surging space program has ambitious plans for both Earth orbit and the moon:

China plans to make a manned moon landing by 2030, but the purpose of exploration of the moon should be seen as ‘peaceful’ rather than a threat, a top scientist has said.

Ye Peijian, chief scientist of deep space exploration at the China Academy of Space Technology, said China’s space technology still lags far behind the US and Russia, according to China Daily.

In order to accomplish its lunar goals, China will need to develop more powerful rockets, the official Xinhua news agency reports:

China is studying the feasibility of designing a powerful carrier rocket for making a manned moon landing and exploring deep space, Liang Xiaohong, vice head of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, told Xinhua Thursday.

The rocket is envisaged to have a payload of 130 tonnes, five times larger than that of China’s current largest rocket, said Liang, who is attending the annual session of National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China’s top political advisory body.

The diameter of the planned heavy-lifting rocket is expected to be two times that of the current largest one, said Liang, whose academy is responsible for the development.

He did not provide a timetable for the development, but said Chinese scientists had to acquire a number of advanced technologies to develop it.

China’s near-term plans include:

  • Chang’e-3 lunar landing in 2013;
  • Regolith sample return in 2017;
  • Tiangong-1 module in Earth orbit 2011, with human visits beginning in 2012; and,
  • Establishment of a permanent space station in Earth orbit by 2020.

The article says that China is open to international cooperation on its Earth orbiting facilities. The country has cooperative programs with Russia in a range of space areas, and Europe is eager for cooperation as well. The Obama Administration is facing strong pressure from Congress to not cooperate with the Middle Kingdom. There also seems to be less interest in cooperation on the Chinese side than on the American one.

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