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It's no secret that China has risen to prominence in the field of space exploration.
The China National Space Agency (CNSA) has achieved a number of firsts over the last two decades. Sending astronauts to space, establishing three space stations (as part of the Tiangong program), creating massive launch vehicles (such as the Long March 5) and sending robotic explorers to the far side of the moon and Mars are all part of this plan.
China intends to take even more dramatic moves in developing its space program in the coming decade and beyond. One of the many ideas being considered by the country's officials for its current five-year plan is the construction of a "ultra-large spaceship spanning kilometers.
Putting this spacecraft in LEO would allow China to conduct long-duration missions and exploit space resources.
This plan comes at a time when China has set a number of new space records.
China became the second country in the world to successfully land a rover on the surface of Mars earlier this year, and the first to land an orbiter, lander, and rover in the same mission. China made history two years ago when it launched the Chang'e-4 lander and rover to the far side of the moon.
This grandiose plan was one of ten made by China's National Natural Science Foundation at a conference earlier this month in Beijing. Each of these projects has been awarded $2.3 million in research and development funding (equal to $15 million).
One of the project's key objectives, according to reports, will be to identify ways to reduce the spacecraft's bulk while still ensuring that they are structurally strong enough to go into orbit.
The spacecraft pieces will be produced on Earth and then launched individually to orbit to be joined in space, according to a project plan issued by the Chinese organization and cited by the South China Daily Mail (SCDM).
This spaceship will be "a major strategic aerospace equipment for the future use of space resources, exploration of the mysteries of the universe and staying in long-term." according to the same plan.
There is a lot of uncertainty about this idea based on the specs provided in the proposal.
To begin with, deploying all of the essential pieces to space would necessitate an absurd number of launches. The International Space Station (ISS) is, by contrast, the largest artificial structure ever constructed in space. Nonetheless, it took dozens of launches and many years to put together, and it came at a significant cost to all of its participants.
NASA's Destiny and Unity modules, the Soviet-Russian Zarya and Zvezda modules, as well as the Integrated Truss Structure (ITS) and solar arrays, were the first to go up.
The delivery of these pieces took 42 assembly flights, 36 of which were done with the space shuttle and the rest with the Russian Proton or Soyuz-U launchers.
Since 1998, a total of 232 extravehicular activities (EVAs) have been needed to assemble and maintain them.
The ISS has cost a total of $150 billion to develop and build, with the majority of the costs borne by NASA and Roscosmos. The station also costs $4 billion a year to operate and maintain, a cost that is currently shared by 15 member nations and their space programs.
Despite this, the ISS is 109 meters (356 feet) long from end to end, whereas the projected Chinese platform would be at least 20 times as long. According to the most conservative projections, a spaceship "reaching kilometers" would cost upwards of $3 trillion (about $20 trillion).
However, the plan appears to be intended solely at investigating the in-orbit assembly of an extra-large spacecraft as part of China's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25).
Do we dare to hope that the terms "ultra-large spacecraft" in this context refer to a space elevator?
Space elevator concept - Credit:Alamy
Given that space elevators have resurfaced in popularity in recent years, it's hardly the most implausible hypothesis. The development of carbon nanotubes, graphene, diamond nanofilament, and other supermaterials has rekindled interest in the notion among space agencies and architecture businesses around the world.
There were hints during China's sixth annual "National Space Day" that the country is interested in developing Starship-like spacecraft and spaceplanes. More recently, China revealed ambitions to send astronauts to Mars by 2033 as part of a long-term plan to create a permanent base there, displacing NASA's goal to send astronauts there in the next decade).
Whatever the long-term goal of this kilometer-spanning spacecraft idea is, it's evident that China is serious about its newfound standing as a significant space power.
It's also apparent that they plan to build on that in the future years, to the point where they may be able to supplant NASA and Roscosmos as the world's premier space power.
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Guest blogger AnThony Legins is a life coach and mentor who enjoys writing on topics relating to mindset, money, real estate, finance and motivation. Read more articles and posts by AnThony at: www.themillionairemindset.net and follow on IG @anthony_legins
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