Industry experts are calling for China and France to join forces in space exploration and development, citing the complementary strengths of both nations. Pang Zhihao, a well-known writer on spaceflight and an expert on space exploration technology, stated that China’s strengths lie in designing and building sophisticated spacecraft and organising large-scale space programs and possessing extensive science and technology resources and engineering expertise for space exploration. On the other hand, France’s expertise lies in creating delicate scientific instruments essential for many space projects and having abundant knowledge of space science.
The call for collaboration comes after a joint declaration by China and France welcoming cooperation between their space institutions regarding the Chang’e 6 probe and joint studies of extraterrestrial samples. The Chang’e 6 mission is China’s next robotic expedition to the moon, scheduled to launch around 2025. It will involve an on-site investigation, retrieving samples from the far side of the moon, and systematic and long-term laboratory research on collected samples. The mission will also enable French scientists to place their equipment on the moon’s little-known far side.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, a state-owned conglomerate, announced that the Chang’e 6 mission would carry a French device for scientific tasks, based on a plan made by China and France in 2019. If successful, the mission will be the first time humanity has retrieved samples from the moon’s far side.
Wang Yanan, editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, emphasised that as China has opened its space station and deep-space missions to international cooperation, French and other European researchers are keen to take advantage of the opportunities to boost their science and technology studies. Likewise, Chinese scientists are enthusiastic about working with their European counterparts to explore the mysteries of the universe.
In April 2019, the China National Space Administration announced payload opportunities on the Chang’e 6 spacecraft, offering to carry 10 kilograms of foreign equipment on the mission’s lander and orbiter. Since then, the administration has received over 20 proposals from foreign space agencies and scientists. Following selection and talks, the Chang’e 6’s lander will carry scientific instruments from France, Italy, and the European Space Agency/Sweden, and a Pakistani payload will be mounted on the orbiter.
China began its lunar program in 2004 and has launched five robotic probes since 2007. In January 2019, the Chang’e 4 became the first spacecraft to closely observe the moon’s far side, with its rover, Yutu 2, working there for nearly 1,600 days as the world’s longest-operating lunar rover. The mission also carried German and Swedish sensing devices to the moon. In December 2020, the most recent mission, the Chang’e 5, landed on the moon and returned 1,731 grams of lunar rocks and soil to Earth, achieving a historic accomplishment about 44 years after the last lunar substances were brought back by US’s Apollo missions from our nearest celestial neighbour.