Science News

China opens bidding on moon probe technology

The moon is seen above the National Stadium, also know and the Bird's Nest, in Beijing August 16, 2008. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will open competitive bidding so that domestic schools and institutions can help build crucial parts of the country’s moon exploration craft, an official newspaper said on Wednesday.

In October 2003, China became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket, after the former Soviet Union and the United States. And the government has made expanding the nation’s presence in space, and eventually reaching the moon, a cornerstone of its bid to rise as a technological power.

But the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense has decided contributions from the country’s universities, institutes and other “qualified” institutions are needed for crucial parts of the lunar effort, which aims to put an unmanned buggy on the moon by 2012, the Guangming Daily reported.

“Our country’s lunar exploration research and development project will be opened to all of society, bringing in a competitive mechanism,” the report said, citing an unnamed administration official.

The report did not say whether listed companies could also bid to help build the technology, which includes a landing vehicle and moon explorer. And it did not suggest that bidding would be open to foreign entities.

The lunar effort had more than 90 elements of “key technology” that must be mastered, the report said.

Over 30 universities and colleges recently attended a meeting to discuss participating in the moon exploration effort, said the paper.

China’s aerospace program is run secretively and has close links to the country’s military. Its first lunar probe, the Chang’e-1, finished its mission in October after orbiting the moon thousands of times without landing.

Beijing officials have said the country is also looking to eventually put astronauts on the moon, but the government has not announced any schedule for that much more ambitious task.

Reporting by Yu Le; Editing by Nick Macfie