China is all set to take its next big leap in space research with its plan to launch a Power Station in the Earth’s orbit by 2025. Being built by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology, the prototype shall be launched in space to directly reflect the sun’s beams to Earth to allow solar power to be harnessed even when it is cloudy on Earth.
The effect of this unprecedented technology shall be bipartite, boosting significantly China’s efforts to avail alternate sources of renewable energy as well as its foray into the world of space tech. Furthermore, the fact that it shall be harnessing power while floating in space makes it a challenging accomplishment. Although some things regarding the project still need to be figured out, a report from Sunday Morning Herald suggests that the initial plan is to equip the power plant with a panel of solar arrays to catch solar rays and reflect them back to the Earth as microwave or laser beams.
Pang Zhihao, a researcher and a part of the project, stated to The Sunday Herald that the power plant will aim at becoming, “an inexhaustible source of clean energy for humans.” The stratosphere will receive the first test plants by 2023, while scaled models of the fully-functioning power station are expected to be sent up by 2030.
One of the biggest challenges that the power station will face, however, is its weight; an approximate 400 tonnes more than the International Space Station. This has prompted the Chinese Academy of Space Technology to think about building a robot factory in space to produce the power station’s components close to the orbit itself.
If successful, this project shall be a big help in cutting down the use of fossil fuels in China. The other places discussing building a power station in space include India, Japan, and European Space agencies, but only China and California Institute of Technology (CalTech) seems to be actively working on the project.
China’s other missions include sending the Chang’e 4 rovers to explore the far side of the moon on January 3rd. As per reports that Chang’e 4, named after the mythical Moon Goddess and equipped with a low-frequency radio spectrometer, aims to help scientists better understand “how the earliest stars were ignited and how our cosmos emerged from the darkness after the Big Bang,” away from the Earth’s electromagnetic interference.
The Chang’e 4 was involved in an experiment to see if the moon’s barren surface may support life at all, and 9 days after the initiation of the experiment, the rover sent back pictures of the first green leaf from the cotton seeds which were planted on the lunar surface, confirmed Chongqing University, which is leading the biological project. Cotton, canola, potato, yeast, and fruit fly were among the living organisms aboard the rover’s test load.
Wu Yanhua, the vice administrator of the China National Space Administration, attests that Chang’e 4 is not the only one of its kind, with the institute already working on four versions of the probe with plans to set up a research base on the Moon for purposes of research. It is also working on creating a similar rover for conduction explorations on the Martian surface by the end of this decade.
Furthermore, China expects to build itself a space station by the name of Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace, by 2022. The space station is expected to comprise of a core module and two adjacent modules for purposes of experimentation, carry up to 3 people, weigh about 66 tonnes, and have a designed life cycle of 10 years. The researches to be conducted there shall probe into fields of biology, physics, and material sciences.
China’s foray into space tech has also led to the Xi Jinping led government to let go of its monopoly on space research leading to the popping up of some start-ups with hopes of competing with Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. These start-ups are being funded by China-based venture capitalists and private equity investors, and they have been allowed to avail the expertise of rocket scientists from China’s space program.
To reduce its dependence of the satellite-based navigation system developed by America to help with smartphones, car navigation systems, microchip dog’s neck, guided missiles, etc. China has reportedly invested $9 billion for developing the Beidou Navigation System. This system, native to China, is expected to eventually use a ground support system to render position accurate to up to 1 meter (3 feet) or less.
Finally, China is developing sophisticated space capabilities like “satellite inspection and repair”, to clear up orbit-junk, “at least some of which could also function” to use them as weapons against U.S. satellites, stated the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency this month, which the Chinese Foreign Ministry disregarded as being “groundless.”