Recently the Chinese announced a mission to the far side of the moon in 2018 and another to Mars by 2020. Paul Spudis, a planetary and lunar scientist who writes about #Space policy, recently focused on China’s lunar ambitions in Air and Space Magazine, including a sample return mission that China is planning for 2017. He sees larger national security implications. Both the sample return mission and the far side mission will demonstrate China’s ability to move space assets at will as well as serve as precursors for crewed missions to the lunar surface,
The sample return mission, for example, will place a lander a quarter of the size of the Apollo-era lunar module on the #moon’s surface, take geological samples, and then return them to Earth. The steps of the mission are the same as a crewed mission.
The far side mission will involve placing a relay satellite in a “halo orbit” centered on the L2 point, where the gravities of the Earth and the moon cancel one another out over the moon facing away from the Earth. This feat will demonstrate China’s capability to operate anywhere in cis-lunar space, according to Spudis.
China is also developing a Space Launch System sized heavy lift rocket, the Long March 9, that will be a prerequisite for landing astronauts on the lunar surface. Spudis predicts that the Chinese will be able to land a human on the moon in five to seven years.
In other words, President Elect Donald Trump cannot have ordered #NASA to pivot back to the moon too soon. Whether the United States likes it or not, it is engaged in a second moon race, this time with the Chinese. The prize this time is not just the bragging rights of having been the first country to plant their flag on the lunar surface, though that will be of great psychological importance as the United States struggles to regain its prestige throughout the world. At risk is the control of the moon and its resources, crucial for the economic development of space as well as access to destinations further in deep space. The implications for who will dominate the current century cannot be overstated.