Aryaman Bhatia, Science and Tech Editor, The Pawprint
Three Chinese astronauts have started a six-month journey to operate on China’s new space station. It is China’s latest move toward becoming a prominent space power in the coming decades.
China launched the first module of its Tiangong, or “Heavenly Palace,” space station into orbit last year. By the end of the year, it intends to add more modules, such as the Mengtian scientific lab.
It will deploy a space telescope named Xuntian next year. This will travel near to the space station before docking for servicing and refueling.
Tiangong will be self-sufficient in terms of electricity, propulsion, life support systems, and residential quarters.
China is just the third country in history to have sent humans into space as well as built a space station, behind the Soviet Union (now Russia) and the United States.
As China grows its space role, numerous other countries are attempting to reach the Moon.
Nasa intends to return to the Moon with humans from the United States and other countries beginning in 2025 and has already rolled out its new massive SLS rocket at the Kennedy Space Center.
Japan, South Korea, Russia, India, and the UAE are also developing their own moon missions.
India has already launched its second big Moon mission and plans to build its own space station by 2030.
Meanwhile, the European Space Agency, which is collaborating with Nasa on Moon missions, is building a network of lunar satellites to let astronauts connect with Earth.
China is eager to advance its satellite technology for telecommunications, air traffic control, weather forecasting, navigation, and other applications.
However, several of its satellites are also used for military purposes. They can assist it in spying on adversaries and guiding long-range missiles.
According to Lucinda King, space project manager at Portsmouth University, China isn’t simply interested in high-profile space missions: “They are abundant in all parts of space. They have the political will and the resources to carry out their plans.”
China’s Moon missions are partially driven by the possibility of extracting rare earth elements such as lithium from its surface.
However, Prof Sa’id Mosteshar, head of the University of London’s London Institute of Space Policy and Law, believes that China would be foolish to send repeated mining missions to the Moon.
Instead, he claims that China’s space program is motivated by a desire to impress the rest of the world. “It’s a display of power as well as technical development.”