China wants a kilometer-long spaceship
4 August 2022
It is no mystery that China has evolved into a major opponent in spaceflight. In the past two decades, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) has achieved historic first flights. These include the dispatch of astronauts, the deployment of three space stations as part of the Tiangong program, the development of large rockets such as the Long March 5, and the dispatch of robotic probes to the moon and the far side of Mars.
China plans to take an even bolder step in its space program over the next decade and beyond. Among the many proposals, Chinese leaders are considering in their latest five-year plan is the creation of a “very large spacecraft” that would span many kilometers. If these spacecraft were in low Earth orbit (LEO), it would be a milestone for China, allowing for long-duration missions and space resources.
The proposal comes when China has achieved multiple milestones in space. Earlier this year, China became the second country in the world to successfully land a rover on the surface of Mars and the first to land a mission consisting of an orbiter, lander, and rover; two years ago, China became the first country to land a probe on the far side of the Moon (Change-4 lander and rover ).
The ambitious proposal was one of 10 submitted at a meeting of the National Natural Science Foundation of China in Beijing earlier this month. Each of these projects has been awarded $2.3 million ($15 million equivalent) for further research and development. One of the leading objectives of the project is reportedly to find a way to keep the mass of the spacecraft low while ensuring that it is structurally sound enough to be launched into orbit.
According to the project outline released by the Chinese foundation and cited by the South China Daily Mail (SCDM), the spacecraft elements will be built on Earth and then individually launched into orbit and assembled in space. The outline specifies that the spacecraft will be “a major strategic aerospace instrument for the future exploitation of space resources, exploration of the mysteries of the universe, and long-duration stays.”