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China’s Crewed Lunar Landing &
Lunar Base Aspirations

It will take China some 15 to 20 years to prepare a manned lunar mission and to develop the relevant technologies, Lt. Gen. Zhang Yulin told the China Daily newspaper 29 April 2016. Lieutenant General Zhang Yulin was deputy commander of the China Manned Space Program and deputy head of the Central Military Commission's Equipment Development Department. According to the newspaper, the news marked the country's first confirmation of the existence of a Chinese manned moon exploration program. Earlier in July, China's National Space Administration (CNSA) reaffirmed its plans to land on Mars by 2021, and added that landing on the moon was among its other short-term goals as well.

Two Chinese Developing Five Year Plans to Watch 2021-2025 & 2026-2030


Although some have characterized it as a 21 st. Century version of an Asian lunar race between China (PRC) verses Russia , Japan and India similar to the US versus USSR lunar race efforts of the 1960’s. It in fact would seem to be a global trend leading to something much more important in the long term. All the World Powers that have the resources, economic capability must get the experience of doing a human lunar landing and base programs before the required global combined effort to transfer human civilization to another planet in our solar system will become geopolitically, economically, technologically practical and achievable. It would appear that this trend is gradually developing in that general direction whether intentionally or not. China ’s crewed lunar aspirations are now becoming more apparent by following its State Planning and what the in development hardware, infrastructure offers in capabilities.

China’s Crewed Lunar Missions Planned for 2021-2025 / 2026-2030 Five Year Plans

In the mean time China plan to use the existing spacecraft variations and their boosters to do the initial un-crewed robotic lunar exploration precursor flights in the Chang’e-1 through Chang’e-4 series to accomplish "Orbiting, Landing & Returning missions" during the 2006-2010, 2011-2015 and 2016-2020 five year plans while pursuing the human crewed lunar program planning. The China Academy of Sciences has developed a twenty five year, Long Term Outlook Forecast “space technology planning research strategy” document for the Peoples Republic of China (PRC’s) government considerations which was finished in the present Five Year Plan (fyp-2006-2010). It is a road map of possibilities to study for decisions on whether to proceed with a human crewed lunar effort that would be very resource demanding. In addition to that they must be looking over their shoulders because of the 2006 lunar exploration coordination agreement with Russia already formalized. The Chinese crewed Space Station program won out in the short term effort and will come first. World trends influence this with the leadership that has full knowledge of the US, European and Russian crewed lunar planning in development?

China’s Fiscal, Five Year Plan Process Defines the Timing Answers

Understanding China’s, Five Year Plan fiscal process precisely defines(1) what they have stated consistently all along for the second generation Salyut / Mir class space station to appear in the middle to end of the 2016-2020 Five Year Plan, while the Lunar effort is planned for the 2021 - 2025 and 2026 - 2030 five year plans. Right now the lunar effort is in the long term 25 year “Future Outlook” plan for development considerations by the government. This is outside the normal three sets of five year plans. The next five year plan known as the forecast plan is being set in 2006-[2009-2010] to start January 1, 2011 through to Dec, 31, 2015 followed by the January 1, 2016-Dec. 31, 2020 with the outlook plan. So the Long Term Future Outlook plan of 2021-2025, 2026-2030 is but a discussion consideration issue to be settled by the government towards the end of the next five year plan known as the present forecast plan.

25 Year Future Outlook Planning Discussions

During 2007 several conceptual space programs began to be discussed as a prelude to the next five year plan introduction of the follow on 15-25 year future outlook plan 2021-2025, & 2026-2030 that is not on the official outlook plan. They included the discussion of Chinese crewed lunar flight (twice denied) and lunar base after 2018-2020 as well as a 20-25 ton manned space station program (once denied) for launch around 2020. (16, 26) Both programs would be dependent on the successful completion of the (Long March) CZ-5 launch vehicle. The Chinese, China National Space Administration (CNSA) made it clear that none of the conceptual programs are officially a part of any existing State plan as of now. (19) These two conceptual programs were clearly headed for a collision among the various advocacy factions with in the ruling Chinese space and political leadership community with mock up work already completed on the space station concept. Space Station does seem to have taken precedent over manned lunar aspirations for the military dominant hand in the decisions. It is now apparent that the new CAS Chinese Academy of Sciences study of human crewed lunar aspirations was undertaken instead because it seemed to have not quite taken hold within the S&T and Military, Political leadership priorities as yet. The fact that such discussions have been publicly revealed certainly portends for those decisions to be made in this five year plan for the addition to the next official Outlook Plan of 2021-2025 and long term strategic planning forecast for 2026-2030 as a part of the next five year plan (2011-2015). (13, 16, 18, 19, 26)

New Fourth Launch Infrastructure

Among the details released from the March 2007 Chinese Peoples Congress “National Committee of the Chinese Peoples Political Consultative Congress conference has been more information on the scheduling revisions for the CZ-5’s development status and the new Hainan, Island launch center construction schedule for both the CZ-2E, CZ-3/3A/3B and the much larger CZ-5E launch vehicles operations. The program was approved in 2006 for development and the launch site infrastructure which is to be operational about 2013-2014. China must first build the industrial base and launch infrastructure for the CZ-5 program development. Ground testing beyond what has already been done with key technologies could be expected to commence on the launch vehicle as early as 2009/2010 with flight testing to start in the next five year plan 2011-2015. As Always flight testing is commenced during the middle period of a five year plan. (12, 23)

Based on what China is now committed to forces one to certainly question what China’s intentions are in relation to the new CZ-5 booster and its various mission openly discussed and the unseen military S&T hand in its planned missions and programs. Obviously the commercial intents of independence with intense market competition and potential domination are clear as well as the unmanned lunar plans. It leaves a large gap in the potential crewed military earth orbit and potential crewed lunar missions separate from the unmanned planetary possibilities. To assume that these plans will wait for the fifteen year outlook plan is to be naive in the face of China ’s space challenge regardless of what they say. (25) There is a larger unseen justification for the new launch vehicles infrastructure that is only barely displaying itself. That could be crewed circumnavigation to lunar land and lunar base programs support besides the space station effort.

Strong hints at what is in the offing is that China’s administration considers its independence from the rest of the world a serious national security industrial S&T base issue for which they must be independent of the rest of the world starting around 2010. It literally intends to replace all foreign sources by 2010 according to the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for the National Defense. This is a major five year plan requirement. Being dependent on foreign suppliers is considered by the Chinese to be national security vulnerability. In general it is the present Chinese administration policy to depend on self-innovation through only domestic suppliers for all military as well as transportation and communications and energy sourcing. The clear cut economic, S&T national security interrelationship to this Chinese administration and its policy designs are intent on preserving their system. (21, 22, 27) The military threat implications of this and other developments are not unfounded.

China ’s Manned Lunar Aspiration is greatly enhanced by This New Booster Series

NASA's former director Michael Griffin before leaving office stated that he still believed that China could if it chooses fly a manned circumlunar mission by 2015 via earth orbital rendezvous with the new CZ-5E booster. This duel launch scenario would utilize the lunar variant of the Shenzhou spacecraft and a propulsion stage. However from design studies by Phillip S. Clark of the British Interplanetary Society it is known the CZ-5E booster could do the mission in a single launch. The point ultimately being if the Chinese geopolitical leadership so chooses it could demonstrate manned lunar capability with in the next five year plan.

China ’s piloted lunar aspiration is greatly enhanced by this new booster series because of the greater payload operational capacity giving greater margins for flexibility to the overall space logistics capability. China has expressed the policy that its crewed lunar landing planning has been delayed to the 2021-2025 time frame three five year plans down the road and that it will not be introduced into the forecast five year plan for development until 2011. But lunar circumnavigation or lunar orbit missions are another matter not openly discussed that could in principle be carried out anytime during the next two five year plans 2011-2020 once docking is demonstrated in 2010 and into 2011. This is expected to become more clarified as the end of the present five year plan December 31, 2010 approaches and the next five year plan is introduced January 1, 2011 .

The recent Politburo’s decisions accelerating the space program plans forward almost by a full month may be a strong indicator of the importance of the present and next five year planning has taken precedents within it members from the back grounders received. The first apparent acknowledgement of an in progress consideration of this early possibility of a PRC Chinese manned lunar effort in the not to distant future may have been revealed officially in SpaceDaily.com from Beijing by AFP when it quoted Wang Zhaoyao:

"It now has its sights on a manned mission to the moon and a space station, said Wang Zhaoyao, spokesman for the manned space programme. 'We believe that as long as we can make further progress in science and technology, we can achieve the dream of a manned space flight to the moon in the near future,' he told reporters after the Shenzhou VII's return." (11)

Up to now there had only been indications of considerations of this possibility as previously noted but this flight may have cleared it for official planning within this five year plan for actual development and implementation with in the next two five year plans based on the available systems already in hand or in development as previously noted. Presumably this will involve a manned lunar circumnavigation mission and lunar orbit missions. This reconfirms the red flag to what NASA administrator Griffin has publicly stated as threatening US space leadership and the associated policy issues. There is little doubt that the CIA, DNI provided background briefing on China’s space activities and relater international space issues is having its impact.

Long March CZ-5E Launch Vehicle Series Reflect the Future Plans

This CZ-5 launch vehicle series program has already slipped several times both from its forecast planning and five year planning schedules because of the slowness in developing the key technologies which required foreign help. China’s introduction of the new CZ-5 medium heavy lift launch vehicle in the Proton/Titan-3D/4B class was planned for the middle of the this five year plan January 1, 2006-2010 but that is not going to happen. With this new launch vehicle we could assume that more advanced un-crewed lunar, planetary probes, civil duel purpose and military satellites will appear by the end of the next five year plan. This is in addition to the approved and funded rudimentary and larger Salyut class space stations programs in the following 2016-2020 five year plan program. The possibly planned CZ-2F/3B based human crewed lunar circumnavigation and subsequent CZ-5 based human crewed lunar circumnavigation and lunar orbit programs through a minimum of two flight tests could also appear in the follow on five year plan January 1, 2016 – December 31, 2020 . Human rating availability for the CZ-5 will probable not occur until the middle of that five year plan. That is, if they decide to commit to such programs at that time and if the CZ-5 launch vehicle does not give them too much trouble with its advanced closed cycle propulsion system and Kerosene/LOX propellants.

China’s Manned Lunar Effort in the Outlook Plans for 15 Years Hence

Eventually down the road two five year plans beyond the present five year plan we could expect them to have started developing a CZ-5 based earth orbital rendezvous (EOR) four to six payload assembly or a Saturn-V class near direct or EOR based launch vehicle in the 3,000 – 4,000 ton’s thrust category for human lunar landing and large earth orbit payloads. Once the CZ-5 booster becomes operational after 2014, the single launch crewed circumnavigation mission becomes possible and the lunar orbital mission becomes possible through EOR. This is because the Shenzhou spacecraft has built into its design the capacity for earth orbit and lunar orbital missions. It could with proper equipment also support a human lunar landing mission through EOR similar the present Russian mission concept. (6) It is also of some interest what kind of military payloads will be launched by China on the CZ-5 series of boosters separate from the civil duel purpose payloads suggested. Ultimately it is the political leadership that must support and justify these programs domestically in spite of how much the industry and scientist believe it to be necessary. It is after all their rice bowel. The final answer to the Science & Technology (S & T) leadership questions must be a political answer. This however, does not preclude un-crewed lunar exploration in support of future follow on human exploration of the Moon and un-crewed exploration of the planets. Certainly the introduction of the CZ-5 booster will be the advent to much more advanced un-crewed lunar exploration probably followed with a limited human lunar circumnavigation and lunar orbit program in the 2014-2015/2016-2020 now slipped to the 2021-2025/2026-2030 time frames. Any manned lunar landing program development would not be expected to manifest itself until the 2016-2020 and 2021-2025 five year plans with the actual manned lunar program following after that during the middle of the 15 th. or 16 th. five year plans. Although the manned lunar landing program prospects are apparently now in the 25 year future outlook plans for future serious consideration this is a far cry from being an actual committed State program which it is not by China .(4, 5)

NASA Chinese S&T Warning

Little wonder that the former NASA administrator Michael Griffin, in a Washington luncheon speech on the Space Economy of September 17, 2007 caught many by surprise. It was followed by a question and answers session and e-mail responses. In response to a question he stated "I personally believe that China will be back on the Moon before we are," (14) Clarifying his answer to the question later via e-mail, Griffin said he was referring to human flight to the moon and that, “If one is willing to make use of multiple Earth Orbital Rendezvous, a really big rocket is not required.” This would be done in place of developing a Saturn V-class launch vehicle like NASA's then planned Ares V. He further stated, "I think that when that happens, Americans will not like it, but they will just have to not like it." And that, "I think we will see again, as we have seen with China's introductory manned spaceflights so far, that nations look up to nations that appear to be at the top of the technical pyramid, and they want to do deals with those nations." (14)

Surely these remarks by the former NASA administrator and indeed the whole reason for the Bush “Vision for Space Exploration” and its manifestation infrastructure in the whole Ares (LV) / Constellation /Orion (CEV) /Altair Lunar Lander) manned lunar program reflect the intelligence briefings red flag from the US intelligence community to the Bush administration and NASA as a national security, S&T, & economic warning. These US programs are based on the national security need requirements as I was directly told openly by personnel from NASA recently. The National Security, geopolitical leadership issues are the why and the driver. The Lunar effort is merely a means to an end besides the science and technology requirements and maintenance of the industrial base greatly reduced in this nation that is required to support US National Security means. Unfortunately the Bush administration did not back up their rhetoric with the required funding regardless of the reasoning leaving it to other administrations to decide its political, national science and technology industrial base investment in rebuilding the nations industrial base in the face of world geopolitical, economic down turn changes and redirection based on that reality.

The Chinese Space Laboratory Priority Pushed back Lunar Aspirations

China is clearly marching to its own drummer doing its thing on the world stage for its own purposes. Driven by its State military requirements China has give priority to the crewed space laboratory, station effort over the lunar effort but China’s Politburo leadership may have decided to take advantage of its world stage opportunity in the coming years at the USA?s expense. Thus the limited crewed lunar effort is possible.


Basically we now have the PRC China manned spaceflight planning laid out for the next three five year plans including this five year plan (2006-2010), 2011-2015, 2016-2020 with strong hints on the 2021- 2025 FYP which reflects how China intends to both equal or pull ahead of any of the then to exist world powers on the world stage in manned spaceflight as a part of its doctrinal belief that it can replace one of those world powers on the world stage towards the end of that period. Whether like Russia in its present economy that will not last the question is can China truly economically control and sustain this attempt remains uncertain but it is more probable than others as things stand today. It could with proper equipment also support a human lunar landing mission through EOR similar the present Russian mission concept. The CZ-5 based EOR assembly payloads for a crewed lunar landing mission seems more probable at this point but it must continue to be watched through the coming next few FYPs. It could also carry out the human lunar landing mission through the introduction of a new booster beyond the CZ-5 booster’s capacity but this at this time remains problematical. They have only in the last few years hinted at their 20-25 year forecast planning consideration requirements after the next five year plan. Such a 100 metric ton plus capacity Saturn-V class launch vehicle would only begin conceptual development around the middle of the 2011-2015 five year plan as the CZ-5 is nearing completion but more probably during the 2016-2020 plan with introduction during the middle of the following five year plan 2021-2025 with operations to follow in the following during that FYP or even as late as the FYP 2026-2030. This assumes that the leadership still supports such a policy with its even greater associated high resources demanding requirements on the command economy in the future. This is beyond the resource straining command economy commitment to the large support development production base infrastructure of the CZ-5E booster presently in progress. It alone is a full FYP behind schedule. Noting that in the military is the State as well as the 2018-2020 start of the main space station program one is left with the question of how China is to support that space station program as well as a crewed lunar effort at the same time? Crewed lunar circumnavigation and lunar orbit programs are conceivable but a crewed lunar landing or lunar base program is quite another thing that all nations alone would find difficult to economically support including China. This brings into question whether China will have a human lunar landing capability until the middle of the fiscal 2021-2025 Five Year Plan or soon afterwards in the 2026-2030 FYP.


1. As I was taught at George Washington University and the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association courses on Soviet Economics Military S & T Prospects by James T. Westwood, Military Science and Defense Analytics, Unionville, Virginia.

4. http://www.moondaily.com/reports/China_to Launch_Lunar_Satellite_Probe_This _Year_... 3/7/2007, AFP, Beijing , China

5. http://www.moondaily.com/reports/Chinese_Spaceman_To_Reach_Moon_In_15_Years_99... 3/7/2007, Xinhua News Agency, Beijing , (XNA) China

6. http://www.moondaily.com/reports/First_Chinese_Lunar_Probe_Assembled_And_Ready_F... 3/8/2007, Xinhua News Agency, Beijing , (XNA), China

11 . http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/China_Outlines_Space_Program_Till_2010_999.html 3/20/2007 , Xinhua News Agency, Beijing , (XNA) China

12. http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/China_To_Pursue_Space_Instead_Of_Socialism_999... 3/29/2007 , By Andrei Kislyakov, RIA Novosti political commentator, Moscow March 28, 2007

13. http://www.moondaily.com/reports/China_aims_for_lunar_base_after_2020_999.html 9/27/2007, Hyderbad , India (AFP) Sept. 26, 2007

14. Bond David, Editor, China First, Aviation Week & Space Technology, Vol 167, No. 17, Sept. 24, 2007, P. 31.

16. http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/China_reveals_space_plans_999.html 10/19/2007, Beijing (AFP) Oct. 18, 2007

18. http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/China_targets_space_station_in_2020_report_999.html 11/8/2007, Beijing (AFP) Nov. 7, 2007

19. http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/China_Denies_Timerable_For_Space_Station_999.html 11/8/2007 , Xinhua News Agency, Beijing , (XNA) China

21. http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/China_aiming_to_replace_foreign_satellites_report_9... 11/19/2007 Beijing (afp) Nov. 19, 2007

22. http://www.spacemart.com/reports/China_Aims_To_Double_Satellite_Life_Expectancy_... 11/21/2007, Xinhua News Agency, Beijing , (XNA) China

23. http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/New_Rocket_Set_To_Blast_Off_By_2013_999.html 11/21/2007 , Xinhua News Agency, Beijing , (XNA) China

25. http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/China_says_space_ambitions_no_cause_for_foreign_c... 12/5/2007, Shanghi (AFP) Dec. 4, 2007

26. http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/China_Has_No_Timetable_For_Manned_Moon_Landi.... 12/3/2007

27. http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Chinas_space_ambitions_key_to_nations_strength_H... 12/12/2007, Beijing (AFP) Dec. 12, 2007

28. China Considering Manned Lunar Landing in 2025-2030, MoonDaily, Shanghai (XAN) May 27, 2009 , p. 1-2.

29. China Tools Up for Asian Space Race, Spacedaily, Hong Kong, (AFP) July 12, 2009 p. 1-2.

30. Moon Base Camp Possible by 2030, People’s Daily on line, June3 12, 2009, p. 1-2.

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