China May Build A Massive Space Station The Size Of A Small Town

According to South China Morning Post, this ship would be so big that it would cover miles! The National Natural Science Foundation of China has asked scientists in the country to think about the most optimal way to put such a craft into orbit. This project, funded to the tune of $ 2.3 million by the foundation, aims to facilitate space exploration in the country and the future use of space resources.

This design phase is expected to last at least five years, during which time researchers will be responsible for minimizing the weight of the spacecraft in order to reduce the number of launches and construction costs. The machine will indeed be so immense that it can obviously not be launched in one go. It is also a question of ensuring the controllability of structures to limit attitude drift, deformation and vibrations during the assembly process of the various modules.

It is therefore an ambitious new step for China, whose space program has progressed enormously in recent years: after being the first nation to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon in January 2019 (the Chang’e 4 probe), in December 2020 it became the third country to bring back lunar samples on Earth (via the Chang’e 5 probe), then recently successfully landed his Zhurong rover on Mars, just three months after NASA.

A project bordering on science fiction

With a huge spacecraft in orbit, China would have a platform that would allow it to spend even more time in space. ” [Un tel vaisseau spatial] is a major strategic aerospace equipment for the future use of space resources, the exploration of the mysteries of the universe and the long-term maintenance in orbit », We can read in the presentation of the project published by the foundation. Scientists involved in the project must now find a way to minimize the mass of the craft, while ensuring that it will withstand being put into orbit.

This ambitious project, bordering on science fiction, comes as China is already building his own space station, baptized Tiangong. This modular station, also assembled in orbit, is nowhere near as imposing as the announced spacecraft – its final mass is expected to be around 100 tonnes, or about a quarter of the International Space Station (which weighs 420 tonnes). Construction is expected to be completed next year.

But putting an “ultra-large” spacecraft into orbit is a much more difficult challenge. For comparison, the ISS measures 109 meters from end to end, which is almost the total length of a football field, and offers 388 m³ of living space; not less than 42 assembly flights (37 on American space shuttles and five on Russian rockets) were needed to deliver the large modules and other parts of the station.

A new ultra-powerful engine being tested

The first module of the Chinese Space Station was placed in orbit in April, via a heavy Long March 5 launcher; the latter is capable of placing a payload of 25 tons in low orbit. But China is working on a new engine, with a thrust of 500 tons, specially designed for its new generation Long March 9 rockets, the first flight of which is scheduled for 2030.

The first tests of the engine made earlier this year place it among the most powerful liquid fuel engines in the world. Equipped with this engine, the Long March 9 rockets should be able to place up to 140 tons in low earth orbit. These launchers will undoubtedly be used to put the various modules of the giant Chinese spacecraft into orbit if the project sees the light of day.

At the same time, China is preparing to send a cargo vessel to Tiangong, to bring various supplies there. The Tianzhou-3 spacecraft and its carrier rocket (a Long March 7) arrived at the launch base last week; the launch is scheduled for mid-September. Shortly after, in October, the Shenzhou-13 will lead three astronauts to the station and return with the current crew, who have been occupying the premises since June. These are only the third and fourth of 11 missions planned to complete the construction of the space station; two more modules are expected to be launched next year.

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