China is making up for lost time in the space race. The China National Space Administration recently released a white paper outlining their ambitious plans for the next five years, which includes launching a Mars probe by 2020, enhancing their satellite systems, developing pollution-free medium-lift launch vehicles, and searching for extraterrestrial life.
China’s space agency started in 1956, but they didn’t launch their first satellite until 1970, the year after the United States put a man on the moon. Yet China’s audacious goals for the next five years reveal the country’s revitalized dedication to exploring outer space.
In the white paper preamble, the agency said, "The Chinese government takes the space industry as an important part of the nation’s overall development strategy, and adheres to the principle of exploration and utilization of outer space for peaceful purposes…In the next five years and beyond China will uphold the concepts of innovative, balanced, green, open, and shared development, and promote the comprehensive development of space science, space technology, and space applications, so as to contribute more to both serving national development and improving the well-being of mankind."
A 2020 Chinese Mars probe could execute what the agency refers to as orbiting and roving exploration. From there they hope to bring Mars samples back to Earth, explore asteroids, and explore Jupiter. In a press conference, agency deputy chief Wu Yanhua said, "Our overall goal is that, by around 2030, China will be among the major space powers of the world."
Yanhua also spoke of cooperation with other countries’ space agencies, but don’t look for NASA on that list yet. The United States Congress hasn’t allowed NASA to work with China since 2011, citing concerns over national security. While American politicians have feared militarization, other international agencies, like the European Space Agency, are already collaborating with China. The country mentioned peace – either peaceful space exploration or contributing to world peace – 14 times in the English translation of the white paper.