Aiming to become a global space leader, China has begun the fourth phase of its lunar exploration program, aimed at building a constellation of satellites around the moon, which will provide communication and navigation services for future lunar missions.

On April 24, Wu Yanhua, deputy head of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), informed Chinese media that the country would lead the way in establishing a modest lunar relay communication and navigation system. New satellites would provide services to enable new, more complicated lunar surface activities.

Moon. (File Photo: IANS)IANS

China's ambitious lunar strategies

Wu Yanhua, deputy head of the China National and Space Administration (CNSA) revealed that the Chang'e-6, Chang'e-7, and Chang'e-8 lunar missions will be launched soon to make crucial technological advances and establish an international lunar research base.

He made these announcements while addressing an online launch event for China's 2022 Space Day on Sunday.

According to him, the Chang'e-6 will collect samples from the moon's far side. The government intends to build a satellite constellation orbiting the moon to provide communication and navigation services.

The fourth phase's primary purpose is to conduct scientific exploration on the moon's south pole and establish a basic form of the lunar scientific research facility. The Chang'e-6, Chang'e-7, and Chang'e-8 missions will be launched before 2030, completing the fourth phase in three steps.

Both Chang'e-6 and Chang'e-7 are scheduled to aim for landings near the lunar south pole. While China has a relay satellite in a halo orbit around the Earth-Moon Lagrange point 2 to facilitate communications with the Chang'e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover on the lunar far side, a different orbit would be required to improve communications and allow for larger data transfers between Earth and the lunar south pole.

Chang'e-8, which will be used to test in-situ resource utilisation and 3D-printing technology, will be used as a stepping stone to the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), which will be built in collaboration with Russia.

Chima aims permanent robotic base on moon

Between 2030 and 2035, the ILRS project would see the establishment of a permanent, robotic base on the moon. Once completed, the base would be able to accommodate long-term human stays.

Meanwhile, to support the Artemis lunar exploration programme, NASA, the European Space Agency, and private companies are developing lunar communication and navigation infrastructure. Some consider the Artemis and ILRS initiatives as the beginnings of a developing cis-lunar economy.

China's lunar communications and navigation constellation will most likely be created in stages, with growing capabilities as the country's lunar programmes advance.