From Soviet Aid to the degree program with the U.S. to take advantage of asteroid mineral wealth

The arrival of a Chinese device on the far side of the Moon has led world public opinion to focus on China's space program, which is more developed than many imagined. Aided by the Soviets in their early days, the Chinese have ended up taking the lead in some programs (probably more apparent than real, given certain setbacks suffered), such as the development of a permanent space station of their own, and compete with the United States in the desire to harness the mineral wealth of asteroids.

Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center

▲ Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center [CNSA]

article / Sebastián Bruzzone [English version]

The origin of China's space program1 can be traced back to the early Cold War, at the height of tension between the United States and the Soviet Union over control of international politics. Since 1955, Chairman Mao Zedong sought the respect of world powers and decided to follow in the footsteps of the neighboring country, the USSR. In March of the following year, the Fifth Academy of the Ministry of National Defense began the development of a first ballistic missile (China's Twelve-Year Aerospace Plan). After the launch of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union in 1957, Mao threw himself into the development of a Chinese artificial satellite that would be active in space two years later (project 581), in an effort materially and economically supported by the Soviet Union. However, in the early 1960s, the USSR withdrew all its attendance economic and technological crisis following Beijing's accusation that the first secretary of the committee The Central of the CPSU, Nikita Khrushchev, was a revisionist and wanted to restore capitalism.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) is the manager of space programs. The first Chinese manned spaceflight took place in 2003, with Yang Liwei, aboard the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft, which docked with the Tiangong-1 space station. In doing so, China became the third nation to send men off Earth. The main goal One of the Shenzhou missions is the establishment of a permanent space station. To date, nine Chinese men and seven women have traveled into space. 

Since 2007, China has shown a special interest in Luna. China's lunar exploration program consists of four phases. In the first (Chang'e 1 and 2), carried out with CZ-3A, two unmanned lunar orbital probes were launched. In the second (Chang'e 3 and 4), in 2013, with CZ-5/E, the first moon landing of two rovers took place. The third (Chang'e 5 and 6) was executed in 2017 with CZ-5/E, consisting of a moon landing and sample return. The fourth, with CZ-7, is scheduled for 2024; will consist of a mission statement manned and the implementation of instructions on the lunar surface.

The mission statement Chang'e 4 was launched on December 8, 2018, and landed on the lunar surface on January 3, 2019, in the crater Von Kárman (186 kilometers in diameter), in the southern hemisphere of the far side of the satellite. Images transmitted by the Yutu-2 rover showed that this never-before-explored lunar surface is densely pierced by impact craters and that its crust is thicker than the visible side. As part of a essay A cotton seed could be sprouted, but high levels of radiation, gravity lower than Earth's, and sudden changes in temperature caused the cotton plant to succumb a few days later. Astronomers believe that the far side is protected from interference from Earth, so from there it would be possible to better study the evolution of stars and galaxies.

In mid-2017, Chinese intentions to search for minerals scarce on Earth on the surface of asteroids, and if possible in their interiors, were made public. Within China's space program, this topic Concrete occupies an important place. Of agreement with Ye Peijan, Maxim manager of the lunar exploration programme, his country had been studying in recent years the possibility of carrying out a mission statement to capture an asteroid to place it in the orbit of the Moon, so that it can be exploited minerally, or even used as a permanent space station, according to the South China Morning Post. The same manager He pointed out that in the Solar System and near our planet there are asteroids and stars with a large amount of precious metals and other materials. This plan will be implemented from 2020. To do this, the CNSA will use the Tianzhou cargo ships, as opposed to the manned Shenzhou exploration ships whose goal The main one is the establishment of a permanent space station, or the Chang'e lunar missions.

The cost of this futuristic plan would be very high, as it would involve the organization of complex and high-risk missions, but interest will not wane, as it could be very profitable in the long term and would give billions of dollars in profits. According to Noah Poponak, an analyst at Goldman Sachs, a single asteroid could have more than $50 billion worth of platinum, as well as other precious metals and water.

Capturing an asteroid requires, first, that a spacecraft land on its surface, in order to anchor itself. The spacecraft will need to have extremely powerful engines, so that, being anchored, it can be able to drag the entire asteroid into the orbit of the Moon. These thrusters, powerful enough to move a rock weighing thousands of tons, do not yet exist. Ye Peijan has warned that this technology needed for such a space experience could take approximately 40 years to develop. For the time being, in March 2017 China announced in the official press that it intended to send probes into the cosmos to study the trajectories and characteristics of some asteroids. With this, it goes live skill with NASA, which is also developing a program aimed at an asteroid.

Tiangong-1 was the first laboratory It is a space telescope that China launched into orbit in 2011, with a length of 10.5 meters, a diameter of 3.4 meters and a weight of 8.5 tons. His goal was to carry out experiments within the Chinese space program and launch the permanent station that the CNSA seeks to have in orbit by 2023. Against all odds, in 2016 digital control of the ship was lost and destroyed in pieces over the Pacific Ocean, northwest of New Zealand. That same year, 2016, a second module, Tiangong-2, with the same objectives. On the other hand, China is making progress on the plan to establish a permanent space station. According to Yang Liwei, the core capsule will be launched in 2020 and the two experimental modules in the following two years, with manned missions and cargo spacecraft.

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