China plans to create an approximately one kilometer long spacecraft built into orbit for future “long-term space exploration and orbital crew missions.”
The financing arm of the country’s Ministry of Science and Technology has suggested a new project to build an “ultra-large spacecraft”. Scientists were asked to study lightweight design methods to reduce spacecraft weight and launch costs, as well as new ways to safely build the large structure in space.
One-kilometer-long Chinese spacecraft: construction would cost $ 135,000
The South China Morning Post said the plan received a meager budget of 15 million yen ($ 136,000). NASA said the International Space Station, which is about a tenth of the spacecraft’s planned size, costs around $ 100 billion to build, launch and assemble.
Former NASA chief technologist Mason Peck told Scientific American that the idea is possible despite the appearance of science fiction. The main obstacle to building such a massive tower, he added, would be scale issues.
He also spoke of financial problems, saying building and deploying a facility 10 times the size of the International Space Station would put even the most generous national space budget to the test.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
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Micheal Lembeck, professor of aeronautical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told LiveScience that while such a massive structure is technically conceivable, it might not be feasible in practice due to the increased spending.
Considering the limited budget of the research project, Lembeck believes that it was designed as a minor academic study to sketch the first outlines of such a project and highlight the technological shortcomings.
Professor Lembeck likened the idea of building such a structure to attempting to build Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise. Due to the limitations of our current technology, he said it was a great exercise to think about but it was neither possible nor realistic to actually do it.
Meanwhile, Professor Peck said construction techniques could lower the cost of sending a giant spacecraft into space. The typical way would be to build rooms on Earth and then build them like Legos in orbit. Therefore, 3D printing technology could be useful here. He proposes to source raw materials from the Moon, whose gravity is lower than that of the Earth. But that also immediately excludes because this option must first launch the infrastructure on the moon. It is therefore not possible in the short term.
China has also shown interest in building huge solar panels in space and transmitting energy to Earth through microwave waves, the South China Morning Post said. Still, Peck believes that the economics of such a project are unsustainable. China plans to erect a space telescope of this stature to a high height. A space telescope of this size could potentially observe features on planets on the surface of other solar systems. Professor Peck said the project could be groundbreaking for the search for extrasolar planets and possibly life in the cosmos.
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