There is an Asian surge in space programs. China and India are upping the ante on by hiking the space spending even as America's NASA and Russia's Roscosmos are having flat budgets.
India increased space spending for 2017-2018 by more than 20 percent from $1.1 billion to $1.4 billion.
One major milestone of China's space ventures in 2017 will be the launch of Tianzhou-1, the first cargo spacecraft which will be a litmus test of key technologies for China's upcoming space station. Carrying 13 tons, the cargo spacecraft will lift off in April.
"The carrying capacity of Tianzhou-1 is designed based on the scale of the space station, on the principle of achieving the highest carrying capacity with the lowest structural weight," said Bai Mingsheng, Tianzhou-1's chief designer with China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.
China's cargo spacecraft is designed with a long-term plan. The Tianzhou-1 is also meant for refueling and resupplying the space station of China. Tianzhou-1 will dock with the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab, which hosted two astronauts in 2016.
China's Space Programs
The space ambitions of China gained traction in recent years. The year 2016 was eventful for CASC with the first successful docking of the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft with the Chinese space lab. China's permanent space station is expected to be ready by 2023.
For 2017, CASC has set lunar sampling as a breakthrough plan with automated moon surface sampling, unmanned docking and moon take-off.
"The development of Chang'e-5 has entered the end of its flight model phase, and relevant work is proceeding smoothly," says a statement from CASC.
The lunar probe will have four parts: an orbiter, a returner, an ascender and a lander, said Ye Peijian, an aerospace expert.
The Shenzhou-11 brought two astronauts safely to the Tiangong-2 and back to Earth. The CASC will also land a probe on the moon's far side by late 2018 with an aim for sending a probe to Mars by 2020, as a significant milestone in China's space exploration program.
Space Budget Hiked
India's space agency, Indian Space Research Organisation, is hiking spending on space technology and space science under the belief that investing in space exploration will bring positive returns for the country.
The agency is gearing up for two space science missions — one to Mars and another to Venus. According to media reports, India's "Mars Orbiter Mission II" may include a lander with a planned launch in 2021, while the Venus mission will be with an orbiter.
In the Mars program, there is competition between China and India. India's space plans had a pronounced momentum in 2014 when it took the 13kg Orbiter Mission to Mars and tapped a stream of data and images. To slash the launch costs, India also began the use of flight tests of a reusable space plane.
India's Record Launch Of Satellites
Meanwhile, ISRO set a world record on Feb. 15 by launching 104 satellites in a single mission from the space center at Sriharikota.
The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle carried a Cartosat-2 series satellite for earth observation along with 103 other satellites in one shot.
The nano-satellites numbering 101 belong to five countries — the United States, Israel, Netherlands, Kazakhstan and Switzerland — alongside a few Indian nano-satellites.
The feat has broken the record owned by Russia which launched 37 satellites in June 2014.
B Jayakumar, mission director, said the focus was not about "creating records" but optimizing the capacity available on the PSLV which has a maximum payload capacity of 1,500 kilograms.