Chinese space authorities told state media South China Morning Post (SCMP) that the unmanned lunar station, jointly built with Russia, will be completed around 2027.
The new plan, which is eight years earlier than previously scheduled, will help China get ahead of the U.S. in the space race.
China’s Chang’e 8 moon landing mission was originally aimed to carry out scientific studies like 3D-printing lunar dust, but the Deputy Director of China National Space Administration (CNSA) Wu Yanhua announced that the new target of the administration is putting an unmanned research station on the lunar surface, which was previously scheduled for 2035.
Wu, while not disclosing the details behind the decision, underlined that the mission was to “build a solid foundation for the peaceful use of lunar resources”.
China’s lunar program has progressed steadily and at its own pace for years, with Chinese space authorities repeatedly claiming that the country was not interested in a space race like the one during the Cold War.
The sudden change in China’s plans might be related to NASA’s intended moon landing in 2025, which is delayed but still earlier than China’s. The Artemis program is extremely complex. It requires building a facility similar to the International Space Station in the moon’s orbit with an estimated cost of 100 billion dollars by 2025. NASA recently warned that the first landing could be delayed by several years due to technical and other challenges.
Deputy Chief Designer of China’s manned space program Zhang Chongfeng previously criticized the United States for pushing an “Enclosure Movement” on the moon, shortly after the Chang’e 5-T1 mission brought lunar samples back to Earth in 2014. The Enclosure Movement was a campaign by British aristocrats in the 18th and 19th centuries to seize land that was formerly owned in common by all members of a village.
The U.S. government and NASA have proposed the Artemis Accords to set rules for future lunar activities. The accords allow governments or private companies to protect their facilities or “heritage sites” by setting up safety zones that forbid the entry of others and are already signed by more than a dozen U.S. allies.
The only countries that oppose the accords are China and Russia, claiming the accords challenge the existing international protocols including the United Nations Moon Treaty. Zhang defends that UN’s Moon Treaty states that the moon belongs to the entire human race.