China is planning to create a roughly kilometer-long spaceship built in orbit for future "space exploration and long-term orbital crewed missions."
The country's Science and Technology Ministry's funding arm has suggested a new project to build an "ultra-large spacecraft." Scientists have been asked to investigate lightweight design methods to reduce the spacecraft's weight and launch costs, as well as new ways to safely construct the large structure in space.
China's Kilometer-Long Spaceship: Building Would Cost $135,000
South China Morning Post said the plan has been given a meager budget of ¥15 million ($136,000). NASA said the International Space Station, which is about a tenth of the projected spacecraft's size, costs about $100 billion to build, launch, and assemble.
NASA's former chief technologist Mason Peck told Scientific American that the idea is possible despite looking science fiction. The major obstacle of constructing such a massive tower, he added, would be scale issues.
He also mentioned financial concerns, saying that building and deploying a facility 10 times bigger than International Space Station would put even the most generous national space budget to the test.
How Will They Build China Build China's Kilometer-Long Spaceship?
Micheal Lembeck, an aeronautical engineering professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told LiveScience that even if such a massive structure is technically conceivable, it may not be practicable in practice owing to rising expenses.
Given the limited budget of the research project, Lembeck believes it was designed as a minor academic study to sketch out the first contours of such a project and highlight technological deficiencies.
Professor Lembeck likened the idea of constructing such a structure to attempting to build the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek. Due to our present technology's limits, he stated it's a great exercise to think about but neither possible nor realistic to really do.
Meanwhile, Professor Peck said that building techniques could cut the cost of getting a giant spaceship into space. The typical way would be to build parts on Earth and then construct them like Legos in orbit. Hence, 3-D Printing technology could come in handy here. He proposes sourcing raw materials from the moon, which has lower gravity than Earth. But also rules that out immediately as this option first needs to launch the infrastructure on the moon. Hence, it is not feasible in the short term.
China has also indicated an interest in constructing massive solar power arrays in space and beaming the energy down to Earth through microwave waves, South China Morning Post said. Still, Peck believes the economics of such a project is unsustainable. China is considering erecting a space telescope of that scale at a high height. A space telescope of that size might potentially observe characteristics on planets in other solar systems' surfaces. Professor Peck said the project may be revolutionary for searching extrasolar planets and perhaps life in the cosmos.
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