China is shooting for the moon and planning to conduct some 30 space launch missions in 2017 – a record breaker in its own space history, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

The country will use its Long March-5 and Long March-7 rockets to carry out most of the missions, a China news service said.

According to reports, Long March-5 — China’s largest carrier rocket successfully test-launched back in November — will bring Chang’e-5 mission to space, a probe that will pursue a moon landing and return lunar samples to Earth.

Long March-7 rockets, on the other hand, will blast the country’s first cargo spacecraft called Tianzhou-1 – which is anticipated to dock with the Tiangong-2 space station and experiment on propellant supplement — into space in the first half of the year. In 2016, this rocket was successfully tested, heralding the country’s gradual shift to new-gen rockets with decreased use of toxic rocket fuels.

China launched 22 missions last year and 19 missions in 2015.

Last Dec. 27, China’s white paper titled “China’s Space Activities in 2016” outlined its ambitious goals for deep space exploration, space science research, and human spaceflight. These include landing its lunar probe on the far side of the moon in 2018 and the launch of its first Mars mission by 2020.

In its desired first soft landing on the distant side of the moon, the nation seeks to conduct in situ as well as roving detection, and then transmit communications at Earth-moon L2 point.

According to the white paper, in the next five years, China will continue to enhance the basic capabilities in its space industry and fortify research on leading technologies. 

China along with other countries have already landed a rover on the moon’s surface, but the superpower targets another landing to explore the dark side of the moon – in part as a display of the required technology, said Shanghai University’s He Qisong.

As for its Mars probe, China said it would conduct studies based on the samples it would bring back from the red planet to assist scientific inquiry on the solar system’s evolution and the continuing quest for alien life. However, it is yet to disclose further details on this mission and the actual launch date.

While the United States and Russia remain most experienced in manned space probes, China has made great strides in previous year, with its two astronauts recently returning from a month-long stay on the Tiangong-2. In the same month, the country also launched the TanSat satellite into space onboard the Long March-2D, the predecessor of the Long March-7.

The white paper adds that in the next five years China will offer space and aviation services to other countries that are part of the One Belt and One Road program, such as navigation, weather forecasting, and satellite communications.

This year also provides major space travel prospects for NASA and private space companies, including SpaceX’s return to flight, Blue Origin’s tendency to surprise people with its fully functional vehicle, and the end of the Cassini space mission on Saturn.

NASA’s budget may have been slashed $300 million from last year, but it’s expected to keep pushing the envelope in space exploration.

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