The far side of the moon and distant Earth, imaged by the 2014 Chang’e-5 T1 mission service module.
The far side of the moon and distant Earth, imaged by the 2014 Chang’e-5 T1 mission service module. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

HELSINKI — Chinese boots on the moon will be “entirely possible” by 2030 according to senior Chinese lunar program designer and engineer Ye Peijian.

“I personally think that, as long as technological research for crewed moon landings continues, as long as the country is determined, a Chinese crewed moon landing is entirely possible by 2030,” Ye told CCTV state television presenter Lu Jian in a Nov. 12 interview.

Ye’s words do not equate to an official statement of China formally approving a crewed lunar landings, but do reflect recent progress and successes and ongoing development of the various capabilities and components needed to safely land astronauts on the moon and return them to Earth.

Ye, who studied for a doctoral degree in Switzerland, was commander of the early Chang’e lunar orbiter missions and advocated for a first Chinese Mars mission in the early 2010s, says China is studying the feasibility of a crewed lunar landing mission. 

He adds that such a mission bears special significance for China, as in the long run it concerns China’s national destiny and status. 

The comments follow a NASA announcement last week that its first Artemis Program human lunar landing will be delayed to at least 2025.

China has already laid out a joint vision with Russia to build the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), which includes a plan for long-term human stays on the moon in the 2030s.

China has made a number of strides in areas related to eventual lunar human spaceflight capabilities. In May last year the country carried out a flight test and high-speed reentry of a new crew spacecraft intended to be capable of deep space missions. 

Later in the year the Chang’e-5 sample return mission demonstrated the ability to land on and takeoff from the lunar surface and conduct a lunar orbit rendezvous maneuver between two spacecraft for the trip home. 

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), the country’s main space contractor, is developing two super heavy-lift launch vehicles for crewed lunar and large space infrastructure launches. 

A number of these elements were on display at the recent Zhuhai Airshow. China is also understood to be working on a lander for crewed lunar missions. 

In June Long Lehao, another senior space industry official, presented a mission architecture using two launches of the new crew rocket, referred to as Long March 5 “Dengyue” (“moon landing”),” to put two astronauts on the lunar surface for six hours. Such a mission would use the new crew spacecraft and could be possible by around 2030, according to the presentation.

If progress on the various elements proceeds, China could include a moon landing as part of space plans for the country’s next five-year plan, covering 2026-2030.

The interview also touched on other areas of space exploration and technology and its overall value. “This is about scientific development, as it will lead to development of technology. It doesn’t mean that since other countries have done it, you don’t need to also. 

“Facts have proved that the countries that can lead in space technology have advanced technologies in various fields. In turn, space technology is something that can feed back to various technologies in society. A country can not develop without the technologies. What we are doing is not only a matter of science, but also something related to the fate and status of our nation…to sum up, I think we should develop space technologies whether other countries do it or not,” Ye said.

“China is a big country with many tasks to fulfill. In the aerospace industry, new application satellites need to be developed, along with communication, navigation and remote sensing technologies, as these are closely related to the national economy and the people’s livelihood,” he continued.

Ye also underlined the value of cooperation to China, especially in relation to the ILRS. “I think China and Russia have different advantages. The Russians are more experienced than us. Cooperation with Russia shows that China is open and accepts participation of other countries. As far as I know, the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program has had very good talks with their counterparts in Germany, France and Italy on lunar missions,” he said.

Ye also explained that following liftoff of Chang’e-4, which completed the first lunar far side landing in 2019, a couple of valves were open for around 20 seconds, resulting in a loss of up to 20 kilograms of fuel. This event was thought to have put the lunar landing attempt in jeopardy.

The next target for China is an asteroid mission, Ye says. The mission, tentatively named Zheng He for the Ming dynasty-era admiral, is set to launch for near-Earth asteroid 469219 Kamo’oalewa in 2024. After collecting samples using two separate techniques the spacecraft would deliver samples to Earth before continuing on to study a main belt comet.

Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for SpaceNews. Andrew has previously lived in China and reported from major space conferences there. Based in Helsinki, Finland, he has written for National Geographic, New Scientist, Smithsonian Magazine, Sky...