After managing to land a space probe containing a mini-robot on the dark side of the Moon, China has revealed its future ambitions for the satellite. The country is now aiming to build a human base, most notably using 3D printing for the infrastructure, in a project which will foster a wide variety of scientific and space-related advances in technology.
Photo credits: 阿爾特斯/Wikimedia Commons
China intends to establish an international base on the Moon, most notably using 3D printing to build the installations, according to a press briefing on Monday by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA), who recently managed the first ever landing on the dark side of the Moon with its Chang'e-4 probe.
International lunar project
Four more lunar missions are planned by the CNSA after Chang'e-4, with the launch now confirmed of the of the Chang'e-5 exploration module before the end of the year to gather samples and bring them back to Earth. The last of these missions will be destined to test the equipment with a view to establishing an international lunar research base, as Wu Yanhua, deputy head of the Chinese lunar exploration programme, explained to journalists at the briefing.
"China, the USA, Russia and Europe are discussing the construction of a base or a research station on the Moon", said Wu, adding that scientists are carrying out research to see "whether we can use 3D printing technology". China, whose space programme is run by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), took a great leap forward when it became the first country to land a vehicle on the dark side of the Moon on 3 January.
How old is the Moon?
The Chang'e-4 module, named after the goddess of the Moon in Chinese mythology, left the Earth on 8 December, carrying with it a mini remote-controlled robot on wheels called Yutu-2 ("Jade Rabbit 2"). This left the probe a few hours after the lunar landing to carry out analyses in the Von Karman crater, located in the South Pole Aitken Basin which is the largest known impact crater in the solar system.
It was back in activity last Thursday after hibernating for five days to protect itself from the cold. "It will be the first time that we will have been able to study the origin and the formation of the dark side of the Moon and even its age," explained Wu Weiren, chief engineer of the Chinese lunar exploration programme.
Other missions already planned
The Chang'e-5 module was originally slated to gather samples in the second half of 2017 but its launch was delayed by the failure in July of that year of another mission destined to launch into orbit a communications satellite shortly after the take-off of the Long March 5 Y2 satellite, which was also set to act as its launcher.
After the Chang'e-5 mission, China will launch Chang'e-6 to gather samples from the South Pole of the Moon and bring them back to Earth. "We will decide whether this will be done on the dark side of the Moon or the side that is nearest the Earth, according to what Chang'e-5 will have managed to acquire," Wu added.
Chang'e-7 will then carry out "a complete exploration of the South Pole of the Moon", including its topography, its composition and its spatial environment, while the Chang'e-8 mission will run tests on the technology and effect "advance exploration to enable countries to construct a lunar research base together in the future", Wu concluded.
Cover photo credits: Tookapic/Pexels
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