The China National Space Administration (CNSA) is developing a new crewed spacecraft capable of flying low-Earth orbit missions as well as landing taikonauts on the moon, according to the Associated Press.
The state-run newspaper Science and Technology Daily cited CNSA engineer Zhang Bainian as saying the new spacecraft would accommodate multiple taikonauts and be similar in design to the Orion spacecraft currently under development by NASA and ESA. Additional information about the new spacecraft design was not made public.
China achieved crewed spaceflight relatively late, launching its first manned mission in 2003. Since then, however, the nation's space program has made rapid and impressive strides. Last year China launched 22 rockets, the first time it matched the number of U.S. launches. At the end of 2016 the People's Republic launched its second space station, and CNSA plans to launch an advanced space telescope as well as a third space station in the early 2020s.
China also has some of the most extensive and ambitious plans to explore the moon in the near future. A sample return mission is planned for this year, CNSA is developing a rover to explore the far side of the moon next year (which would make China the first country land on the far side of the moon), and ultimately China aims to land taikonauts on the moon by the mid-2030s, which will be the primary mission of the new spacecraft.
With the United States, Japan, and India all targeting the moon for near-term missions as well, our one natural satellite could see a lot more activity in the next 20 years.