Following its successful and world-beating trip to the far side of the moon, China is preparing to build a solar power station in space, as the world’s No 2 economy strives to burnish its superpower credentials.

With an $8-billion annual budget for its space programme, second only to the US, China is seeking to compete with its rival for economic, military and technological dominance.

Experimental base

Scientists have already started the construction of an experimental base in the western Chinese city Chongqing. Initially, they plan to develop a smaller power station in the stratosphere between 2021 and 2025, a 1 megawatt-level solar facility in space by 2030, and eventually larger generators, according to the state-backed Science and Technology Daily .

The nation’s space scientists successfully landed a lunar probe on the far side of the moon on January 3, capping a series of missions and giving a boost to China’s ambitions. Landing on the unexplored region will enable Change-4 to better study the moon because of the lack of electromagnetic interference from Earth.

Green shoots

Reminiscent of the 2015 science fiction film The Martian starring Matt Damon, China’s lunar mission is also testing if the barren moon can support life. Pictures sent back from Change-4 last month showed the first green leaf from cotton seeds nine days after the experiment was initiated, according to Chongqing University, which led the biological project.

The country has more such missions in the pipeline. Four more versions of the Change probe are in the offing, with at least two of them planned for a landing on the moon’s south pole, according to Wu Yanhua, Vice-Administrator of the China National Space Administration.

Space Station

China aims to build its own space station around 2022. Dubbed Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace, it will have a core module and two other modules for experiments, altogether weighing 66 tonnes and able to carry three people, with a designed life cycle of at least 10 years. The facility will be used for scientific research in a dozen areas including biology, physics and material sciences.