Countries are once again racing to the moon, but the modern space race looks different than the original race in the 1960s. As Donald Trump vowed to increase U.S. spending for space exploration, China and Russia also recently announced planned moon missions and India had successful rocket launches, heating up competition between the countries.
China’s Entry to Space
China has been developing the Chang’e-5 lunar probe, which is currently in the final round of testing. The probe is expected to be ready to launch in August. The probe will travel to the moon to collect samples; its high-speed reentry to Earth after taking off from the moon makes it an incredibly complicated mission.
The probe showcases China’s recent focus on space exploration. A three-stage program was launched by the country’s government in 2009 to grow space travel, with the eventual goal of sending a rover to Mars. In 2013, China had its first “soft landing” on the moon in nearly 40 years with a probe and a rover.
China has lofty goals for moon travel in the future. It hopes to be the first country ever to send a probe to the dark side of the moon in 2018 and wants to have human astronauts on the moon by 2025. It also recently announced plans to launch two missions to Mars and a probe to Jupiter.
U.S. Mission to Deep Space
The traditional leader in space exploration, the U.S. is once again trying to asset its dominance. Last month, President Trump asked NASA to look into sending a heavy-lift rocket mission for a human return to the moon in 2018.
The mission will aim to use a space capsule to take four astronauts around the moon; it was originally slated to occur in 2021, but it could now happen much sooner.
A team of scientists is evaluating how to change the mission to add crew members. However, NASA is still pursuing its original plan to launch an unmanned capsule around the moon to test system readiness for future manned operations. The country’s main focus is deep space exploration, but the moon is the first step in that journey.
Russia’s Move to the Moon
Another contender in the new space race is Russia, which recently announced it is recruiting cosmonauts to travel to the moon. Only the U.S. has successfully put humans on the moon, and no one has tried to do so since 1972.
The selection process is being run by Roscosmos, a Russian space corporation. Russia’s plans involve using a manned new-generation Federatsiya spacecraft for a Moon landing around 2021. Two spacecraft are being constructed for testing starting in 2021: one will hold four people and the other, six.
India’s Commercial Play
The space race also extends to the commercial space, as more countries turn to privatized space exploration. India recently launched 104 satellites into orbit, a record. Many people are saying the move should be a “wake-up call” for China to increase its efforts in the space race against India.
Of the 104 satellites launches, 96 belong to the U.S., showing India’s power in the global commercial rocket launch service space. India has an advantage over China in that area because it can offer lower prices.
The U.S. owns the majority of the world’s satellites, but because satellites and parts made in the U.S. are prohibited from being exported to China, it is difficult for China to get commercial satellite launches with other countries. India’s success could drive Chinese officials to fast track commercial satellite develop in order to to gain some of the market share.
Although the plans of these countries are slightly different, they are both focused on two areas: the moon and deep space. Competition could speed up the development process, but scientists are ensuring all missions are safe before we venture to space.