China eyes 2018 for moon landing, 2020 for Mars mission

China on Tuesday announced ambitious plans to be the first country to soft land a probe on the far side of the moon sometime around 2018, and is set to launch its first probe to Mars by 2020, according to a new document released by the information office of the country’s cabinet.

According to the Associated Press, a white paper released by officials in Beijing details China’s space strategy over the next five years. “To explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry and build China into a space power is a dream we pursue unremittingly,” the white paper said.

Though they lack the experience of the Russian, European or US space programs, the AP noted that China has “made steady progress in a comparatively short time,” having conducted the first crewed space mission in the nation’s history just 13 years ago, then performing a spacewalk and soft landing a rover on the lunar surface in 2013 – the first such landing in decades.

The white paper says that China intends to use space for peaceful purposes, as well as part of its national security program and to conduct state-of-the-art scientific research. They are expected to begin operating a permanently-crewed space station within six years time, and the plan is for that facility to be fully functional for a period of at least 10 years.

Document also reveals proposed Jupiter, asteroid exploration missions

According to International Business Times, China plans to launch its Chang’e-4 probe to learn more about the formation and the evolution of the moon. The spacecraft will perform geological and topographic surveys on lunar samples and will also carry out low-frequency radio astronomy observations on the landing area on the far side of the moon, the white paper said.

In addition, the document confirmed the country’s plans to sent a spacecraft to Mars within the next four years, where it will collect samples from the Red Planet for analysis. China also stated that they planned to carry out asteroid exploration missions and to explore the Jupiter system. It also intends to eventually land an astronaut on the moon, although this is not directly mentioned in the white paper itself, according to the AP.

“In the next five years China plans to expedite the development of its space endeavors by continuing to enhance the basic capacities of its space industry, strengthen research into key and cutting-edge technologies, and implement manned spaceflight, lunar exploration… and other important projects,” the document said, according to International Business Times.

“Furthermore, the country is to launch new key scientific and technological programs and major projects, complete, by and large, its space infrastructure system, expand its space applications in breadth and depth,” it continued. The Chinese space program also intends to “conduct research into major scientific questions such as the origin and evolution of the solar system, and search for extraterrestrial life,” the white paper added, according to the Washington Post.