China's launching of three astronauts over the weekend to work on completing the country’s Tiangong space station is the latest step in making itself a leading space power in the decades ahead, the BBC reported on Monday.
Already it is only the third nation to have put astronauts into space and to build a space station, joining the Soviet Union and the United States.
China recently released a new, high-definition image of Tiangong, which is in orbit about 250 miles above Earth, Bloomberg reported.
Beijing started building Tiangong after the U.S. barred China from participating in the International Space Station.
By the end of the year China plans to add more modules to Tiangong, such as the Mengtian science lab, and then next year to launch a space telescope, called Xuntian, which will fly close to the space station and dock with it for servicing and refueling.
This is part of plans by which Beijing hopes to replace the International Space Station, which is due to be decommissioned in 2031, according to the BBC.
By that time China is aiming to take samples from asteroids near the Earth, to put its first astronauts on the moon, and to have sent probes to collect samples from Mars and Jupiter.
China’s ambitions to be a world leader in space are illustrated by the fact that at least 300,000 people have worked on the nation’s space projects, which is almost 18 times as many as currently work for NASA, according to state media Xinhua, the BBC reported.
In addition, the Chinese National Space Administration, which was established in 2003 with an initial annual budget of some $300 million, now has investment of more than $1.5 billion annually after its space industry was opened to private companies in 2016, according to Chinese media.
Lucinda King, space project manager at Portsmouth University, told BBC that Beijing is not just focusing on high-profile space missions, but “are prolific in all aspects of space. They have the political motivation and the resources to fund their planned programs."
China is also eager to develop its satellite technology, with many of its satellites also having military purposes that can help it spy on rival powers and guide long-range missiles.
Beijing's ambitions to reach that moon are also partly motivated by the desire to extract rare earth metals from its surface, according to the BBC.
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