China plans to launch three unmanned missions to the moon in the next 10 years as it seeks to compete with the United States in a new era of space exploration.
The China National Space Administration, equivalent to NASA, has received approval to send three orbiters to the moon as part of the Chang’e lunar program, said Liu Shijun, an official at the China Lunar Research Center and Space Program. CCTV
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The announcement came shortly after China said it had discovered a new lunar mineral using samples obtained by the Chang’e-5 mission. State-run news agency Xinhua, called ChangeSight-(Y), described it as a colorless transparent crystal. It is said to contain a similar element, helium-3, which is thought to be the energy source of the future.
China has increased its space ambitions in recent years, sending probes to the moon, building its own space station and aiming for Mars, projects that directly compete with the United States. NASA has a rover on the red planet and is trying to return astronauts to the moon again this decade. Both countries are eyeing lunar minerals in hopes that space mining will be the next source of tension.
The two sides have been trading barbs in recent weeks after the US Artemis I mission, the first major attempt to return to the moon in half a century, was postponed. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has accused China of stealing space technology, and the country has been criticized for space junk.
China’s lunar exploration program was established in 2004 and launched its first spacecraft three years later. Chang’e, which takes its name from the Chinese goddess of the moon, has recently focused on collecting samples from the lunar surface.
Chang’e-7 is targeting the moon’s south pole, which scientists believe is the best place to find water. NASA is also targeting this part of the moon.
Liu, a government official, said on Saturday that China ultimately aims to build an international research center on the moon.
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