China's Tianwen 4 to target Jupiter and Uranus with two spacecraft on one rocket
China has unveiled an ambitious mission to Jupiter and Uranus around 2030, Space.com reported. Wang Qiong of the Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center under the China National Space Administration (CNSA) presented new details of the mission at the International Astronautical Congress 2022 in Paris on September 21.
The pair will launch on a Long March 5 rocket and will use a Venus flyby and two Earth flybys to fling the spacecraft on a trajectory for the outer solar system before separating and setting course for their respective targets, the publication states.
Focus on the Galilean moons, Uranus, and perhaps an asteroid
For now, the main spacecraft will be dedicated to investigating the Jupiter system and will orbit around the moon Callisto. It could launch a deeper investigation of the outermost of the Galilean moons.
The smaller spacecraft, which will have a mass on the order of a few hundred kilograms, according to Wang, will make a long voyage to Uranus. According to the presentation, the spacecraft could also fly by an asteroid on their way out from the Sun.
"The scientific goals are still under consideration," Wang told Space.com in an interview. Their earlier presentations focused on either Callisto as the primary target, which could reveal the history of the Jovian system, or investigate the irregular satellites of Jupiter, which could provide an insight into the early days of the solar system itself.
CNSA did consider a lander earlier as part of the Callisto-focused mission, but Wang said that their latest plan includes an orbiter and no lander.
Enroute to becoming a space power
China launched its first independent interplanetary mission in 2020, in which the Tianwen 1 orbiter and the Zhurong rover explored Mars.
For its first-ever combined orbiting, landing, and roving in a single launch, the mission earned the International Astronautical Federation's annual space achievement award on September 18 during the International Astronautical Congress in Paris.
Next, Tianwen 2 will launch around 2025 and target the small near-Earth asteroid Kamo'oalewa for a sample-return mission and a later visit to the main belt comet.
Tianwen 3 will be a dual-launch Mars sample return mission that could launch as soon as 2028 and deliver to Earth the first-ever samples collected from the Red Planet.
According to Wang, the missions, together with plans to build an International Lunar Research Station in the 2030s, aim to "promote the utilization of human resources to create a new pattern of international cooperation in space exploration to make contributions to the peaceful use of space."
In a white paper titled 'China's Space Program: A 2021 Perspective,' released early this year, the country outlined its plans for the next half-decade of spaceflight and exploration.
"In the next five years, China will integrate space science, technology, and applications while pursuing the new development philosophy, building a new development model, and meeting the requirements for high-quality development," it said.
The country is already on its journey towards becoming a space power. "The space industry will contribute more to China's growth as a whole, to global consensus and common effort with regard to outer space exploration and utilization, and to human progress," it said.
"Our first space launch will occur in less than half the time it took Space X to achieve that milestone," said Phantom Space CEO Jim Cantrell.