China will open its lunar exploration program to private enterprises in an attempt to boost technological innovation and break State-owned companies’ monopoly in the space field, according to the country’s top space authority.
As a starting measure, private enterprises are being encouraged to take part in the Chang’e-4 lunar probe mission, according to a statement issued by the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, which oversees space programs.
The mission will serve as a platform “for technological research and development, product tests as well as data application” for private companies, the statement said. “The move will help break the monopoly in the space field, accelerate technological innovation, reduce the government’s investment and improve efficiency.”
Chinese scientists have developed some equipment that will be used on the Chang’e-4. The probe’s overall design and launch time will be decided based on technical and economic factors, the private sector’s participation and the result of international cooperation, the administration said.
Wang Pengji, a senior space scientist at the China Academy of Space Technology who took part in the development of the earlier Chang’e-3 probe, said the move will inject new momentum into the country’s space industry.
“Currently, most of our space equipment is developed and produced by State-owned institutes in accordance with missions set by the government,” he said. “Opening the industry to the private sector will introduce competition and new ideas.”
Wang said private enterprises can start with optical instruments because they are not as complex as remote-control and power supply equipment.
Another industry insider said China should study the United States’ successful experience in space development.
“The US opened its space program to the private sector a long time ago, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has allowed private companies to conduct near-Earth manned missions. By contrast, our State-owned enterprises still hold a tight grip on the industry,” said the insider, who works for a major space academy. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
The benefits are “obvious”, he said. “Those private companies will invest to innovate. Their participation will reduce the government financial input. And more members of the public will get involved in our space exploration program.”