China plans more lunar missions after finding new lunar mineral

China plans to launch three unmanned missions to the moon over the next 10 years as it aims to rival the US in the new era of space exploration.

China’s National Space Administration, NASA’s equivalent, has been granted permission to send three orbiters to the moon as part of the Chang’e moon program, said Liu Jizhong, an official at the China Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center, according to by the state supported CCTV.

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The announcement came a day after China said it had discovered a new lunar mineral, via samples retrieved by its Chang’e-5 mission. Named Changesite-(Y), it was described by the state news agency Xinhua as a kind of colorless transparent columnar crystal. It is said to contain helium-3, an isotype that is speculated to be a future energy source.

In recent years, China has stepped up its ambitions in space, sending probes to the moon, building its own space station and setting its sights on Mars, plans that have put it in direct competition with the US. NASA has a rover on the Red Planet and wants to put astronauts on the moon again this decade. Both countries are keeping an eye on the moon’s minerals, and space mining is expected to be the next source of tension.

The two sides have traded barbs in recent weeks after the US’s Artemis I mission, the first major attempt to return to the moon in half a century, was postponed. NASA administrator Bill Nelson has accused China of stealing space technology and the country has been criticized for space debris.

The Chinese lunar exploration program, founded in 2004, launched its first spacecraft three years later. The Chang’e program takes its name from the Chinese moon goddess and has recently focused on collecting samples from the lunar surface.

The Chang’e-7 program will focus on the moon’s south pole, an area scientists believe is the best place to find water. NASA is also targeting that part of the moon.

China eventually wants to build an international research station on the moon, government official Liu said on Saturday.

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