Forward-looking: China and the United States compete in many areas, and it appears that the moon could become another area of contention for the two superpowers. The Asian nation plans to build its first lunar base by 2028, while the White House wants to bring humans to the surface by 2025.
The South China Morning Post reports that China’s moon base will likely be nuclear-powered. Its basic configuration will consist of a lander, hopper, orbiter, and rover, and be constructed by the Chang’e 6, 7, and 8 missions.
“We are now developing a new system that uses nuclear energy to address the moon station’s long-term, high-power energy demands,” said Wu Weiran, chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program during an interview with state broadcaster CCTV earlier this week. “(We) hope our astronauts will be able to go to the moon in 10 years.”
China has been challenging the US in the field of space exploration for years now. The country is building its own space station and has sent probes to the moon—it was the first to land a rover on the far side of the moon in 2019.
The base will likely be built in the moon’s southern polar region. It will eventually expand into an international scientific research station, and astronauts from China, Russia, and other potential partner countries will work there occasionally, but it will be unmanned most of the time.
China’s announcement comes just a couple of weeks after the White House’s national science and technology council released its new National Cislunar Science and Technology Strategy. Some of the plans relate to the moon, including proposals for a permanent outpost on the south pole area.
In June, NASA and the Department of Energy selected three companies, including Lockheed Martin, to design concepts for a fission surface power system to provide nuclear power on the Moon.
In 2020, eight nations signed the US-led Artemis Accords, in which signatories agree to interoperability, peaceful exploration, deconfliction of activities, and more, with the intention of avoiding conflicts in space. Just over 20 countries have now agreed to the principles, but Russia and China are the two notable absentees.