May 16, 2021

China goes from pariah to winner of stage in the second space race | Science

China goes from pariah to winner of stage in the second space race | Science

China joined almost 40 years late to the space race. In 2003, it was the third country to send a man into space on his own, after the Soviet Union and the US, and since then, the third has been the position he has occupied in the space challenges he has tried. Until yesterday. The arrival of Chang'e 4 to the hidden face of the Moon seems a change of tendency for a nation that aspires to surpass all others.

For years, China has tried to cooperate with other countries in space exploration. In particular, he would have been interested in participating in the International Space Station (ISS) and, according to the expert in the space program of the country Brian Harvey, "waited to make their decision on the construction of their own space station until it was totally evident that the Americans were not going to let them enter the ISS".

Yang Hong, the designer of the first Chinese space laboratory, the Tiangong-1, has stated that, "in some way, the blockade of foreign nations has driven the technological innovation of their country." The Chinese space station will be underway, if everything goes according to plan, in 2022, shortly before the ISS is dismantled, and the country has already offered that new laboratory as a space for international cooperation.

The Asian country has managed to maintain the deadlines set for its missions with a surprising rigor in an industry accustomed to delays. However, it has also suffered setbacks. The new rocket Long March 5, which will serve to mount the space station, failed in its second launch and the mission explorer robot Chang'e 3, predecessor of the Chang'e 4, it broke down after traveling a little over a hundred meters on the Moon. In addition, for now, their forecasts, although ambitious, are still a long way from US plans. In 2020, it plans to take a mission to Mars, in 2022 to an asteroid, in 2029, to Jupiter and by 2035 it plans to have a reusable rocket in the style of what is now being tested by the SpaceX company. All these challenges will have been overcome by the United States decades in advance.

But the Asian country has a long-term vision and, as has happened with the hidden side of the Moon, could begin to obtain partial victories in this new space race. In the 2030s, it would try to send its first manned missions to our satellite and there have already been contacts with the European Space Agency to plan a possible lunar base. In 2017, Beihang University tested the Yuegong-1, a laboratory to simulate a lunar base on Earth. There, eight students lived for 365 days in conditions that pretended to mimic those of the Moon and put to the test a life support system in which oxygen, food and water were recycled to create a livable environment and where students cultivated potatoes, wheat or carrots.

In the next missions to the Moon or Mars, the Chinese probes will incorporate these systems to test if they work in space and have already carried out experiments that hint at the vision of the Asian country's future. In 2016, it launched 6,000 mouse embryos into space on board the recoverable satellite SJ-10. When he returned, some had developed into blastocysts, the way in which they could be implanted in a uterus. On that occasion, like yesterday, the Chinese did it first.

Space experts rule in China

In an article published in The Space Review, analyst Namrata Goswami recently noted the political importance given by Chinese leaders to space exploration. In the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China, celebrated in 2017, President Xi Jinping promoted scientists specializing in space technology to important political positions. Ma Xingrui, former general director of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the company responsible for building the spacecraft or rockets of the Chinese space program, was appointed governor of the province of Canton, the country's main economy. He also promoted the governor to Yuan Jiajun, the president of the Chinese Academy of Space Technology. In this case, its destination was the province of Zhejiang, the place from which, as a curiosity, the vast majority of Chinese living in Spain proceed. According to Goswami, this recognition reflects two things: "That those responsible for science and space policy have fulfilled their promises, and that they are being rewarded for their successes".

Along with scientific interest, China is already beginning to work to exploit the resources that are there the day it is possible to do so. The Asian country cooperates with Luxembourg, a country that has enacted a law that gives private companies the right over materials extracted from the satellite. In its association with this country, it also intends to start developing a communications system to cover a large number of missions, which in the future could reach from the Moon to Mars or even different asteroids that could be exploited for their mining interest. According to Goswami, China's ability to reach the hidden side of the Moon first and then install a long-term foundation will give China the ability to set the rules of the game in space as it already does in many aspects on Earth. .


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