Coming from far behind the US space programme, Beijing is making significant steps towards catching up with its rivals.
China plans to relocate 10,000 people to make way for the world’s largest radio telescope, which authorities say will help them search for alien life.
The 500-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), nestled between hills in the southwestern Guizhou province, is due to start operations this year, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday.
Provincial officials have said that they will move 9,110 residents living within five kilometres of the listening device by September. The relocations aim to “create a sound electromagnetic wave environment”, Xinhua cited a top regional official named Li Yuecheng as saying.
Xinhua earlier quoted Wu Xiangping, director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society, as saying that the telescope’s high level of sensitivity “will help us to search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy”.
FAST, built at a cost of $180m, surpasses the 300-metre Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico as the world’s largest radio telescope.
Residents will reportedly receive $1,800 in compensation for moving, with some getting extra support for housing.
In the past China has relocated hundreds of thousands of people to make way for large infrastructure projects such as dams and canals. Many complain of poor compensation.
The area surrounding the telescope is remote and relatively poor. Xinhua earlier said it was chosen because there are no major towns nearby.
As well as boosting investment in astronomy, Beijing is accelerating its multibillion-dollar space exploration programme, with plans for a permanent orbiting station by 2020 and eventually a manned mission to the Moon.