Will science fiction become fact?

If you’ve been a fan of science fiction for any length of time, you know that writers have continually postulated building spaceships in space, rather than on a planet;  spaceships that never actually land, but remain in space, sending shuttles, passenger vehicles or lifeboats down to the surface and bringing supplies, cargo and passengers up;  and so on.  They’ve all realized that the “gravity well” is an insuperable obstacle to space flight from the surface of a planet, and that if it’s to become a sustainable reality, it has to start and end in space rather than on the ground.

It seems that China is taking the lead in turning that theory into reality.

The National Natural Science Foundation of China has outlined a five-year project for researchers to study the assembly of ultra-large spacecraft.

Scientists are being directed to meet the “urgent need” for the construction of ultra-large spacecraft. Preliminary research is to include studying the challenges of developing lightweight structures and subsequent on-orbit assembly and control.

Though vague, the project would have practical applications for potential megaprojects including colossal space-based solar power stations. Such facilities would be based in geostationary orbit and span kilometers. These stations would collect solar energy and transmitting power to Earth through microwaves.

Kilometer-scale, ultra-large spacecraft are described as “major strategic aerospace equipment for the future use of space resources, exploration of the mysteries of the universe, and long-term habitation in orbit,” according to the project outline within the mathematical and physical sciences attachment to the released document.

. . .

Space industry insiders commenting to the Global Times noted the time-span and limitations of the International Space Station, noting that kilometer-level spacecraft face greater time, management and other challenges beyond those of complexity.

The country is however apparently looking to outer space for potential answers to social development challenges and concerns such as energy and resource security.

There’s more at the link.

It’s exciting to see something long theorized fictionally being studied as a real, non-fiction possibility.  I doubt very much whether I’ll be alive to see it happen, but I hope the next generation will.

22 comments

    1. Imagine, tofu space stations!

      The Global Times is a CCP mouthpiece, so (despite that they’ve !!!Discovered!!! what we in SF Land have known for decades) I take this to be one part speculation and three parts propaganda.

      1. *points at buildings made without rebar, using the wrong but cheapest grade of cement, etc*

        It’s a literal cultural standard that contracted requirements are a statement of the importance of the one writing the contract, not actual expectations; actual expectations are enforced by on-scene supervision, with assumption that if they really care, they will be watching close enough to catch any slight of hand that happens additionally, and that’s before bribes come in.

        That’s hard enough on earth….

        1. I got to sit there for…quite some time… as our cultural translator tried to explain this to someone who simply could not *grasp* how the Chinese businessmen didn’t view violating a contract’s spelled-out terms as, well, violation of contract. Had to do with inspecting deliveries, I think.

        2. Not to mention the known record of the Chinese space program. Have we already forgotten the Chinese rocket booster drama of last spring? “Round and round the satellite goes, where it crashes, nobody knows…”

          IF the Chinese actually attempt this, I think we’re all going to have to find our inner dwarf and figure out ways to live in underground caverns. My primary consolation is that this is likely just a bunch of hot air out of Beijing, and they don’t have the slightest intention of actually doing it.

  1. The National Natural Science Foundation of China has outlined a five-year project for researchers to study the assembly of ultra-large spacecraft.

    I’m not sure I would call this a step towards making outer space assembly a reality. China says a lot of things. In this case, all they’re saying is that have a five-year plan to maybe study if it could be done. Even assuming that they actually intend to do the study (a big assumption) that’s still a long way from making things feasible.

    Plus, as Foxfire pointed out, the Chinese record for competence on these things isn’t exactly inspiring.

  2. Question.

    Since parts for rockets aren’t lying around in space, how does ferrying the raw materials to make a rocket into orbit so it can then be assembled in orbit, in any way at all get past the gravity well problem?

    Does it not merely mean that you are transporting way more stuff than you would be if you just built it on the ground then launched it?

      1. No matter how you go about it, to make effective use of space, you are going to need to build large mobile assemblies in orbit first (can be Earth or Lunar orbit, but still in your own “back yard”). Can’t go out to snag an asteroid with Apollo or Crew Dragon.

        1. I think it’s popular in scifi in part because then you can JUSTIFY having ginormous fleets of ships– getting the emotional impact of seeing row upon row of soldiers.

          1. *facepalm* Aaaand I just actually worried about “should I say spoilers?” for a single scene without context for a decades old show which, while fans can identify the series and decade, they’d have to have SEEN to know what it’s about….

      1. Orbital construction is going to be a long process, that will probably start with raw materials from the Moon, which requires a moon base, which requires enough of a space presence to support it . . . Looking at it quickly has me humming “There’s a hole in the bucket . . .”

        But it’s mostly political and engineering problems. You have to have long term financing and support of the projects, and the projects after that, and then the engineers can get it done. With the US flip-flopping with every election it’s going to creep along very, very slowly. But unlike FTL, it really is “just” engineering. It doesn’t require a major scientific breakthrough.

  3. a) Evergrande
    b) Even ignoring such specific, recent issues, it has not been clear that the last four or five years of behavior signify a confidence in regime stability.
    c) long lead time, complex, technically challenging program.
    d) Totalitarian governments have issues managing complex technical projects.
    e) Five year plan might be a word/timing choice suggesting that this is propaganda directed mainly towards communists.

    1. e) Exactly. Aimed at distracting the populace from ongoing floods the size of Texas, and prodding them into national pride and away from the current trend of “lying flat” (giving up).

  4. It’s nice that somebody is talking about maybe studying how to possibly make a decent space station. Finally. After all these years. For f- sakes.

    It’s not so nice that it is the Chicoms talking about it. (Big long cranky rant deleted from here. It’s 9/11 today, I’m out of sorts.)

    However, on a more cheerful note in other science fiction news, one of the ridiculous handwavium rubber science things in my books is being pursued as a Real Thing in the Real World.

    https://www.tomshardware.com/news/amd-teleportation-quantum-computing-patent

    AMD has filed for a patent on using intra-chip quantum teleportation on a silicon device. They propose to use quantum teleportation to distribute workload to Q-bits on the device for out-of-order processing.

    Quantum teleportation is Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance” whereby the spin or other quality of a particle can be entangled with that of another particle. If the particles are physically separated, their spins for example remains “stuck together.” Change one spin, the other spin changes as well even though the second particle is not anywhere near the first one.

    In my books I say that the effect reaches between star systems, allowing AI beings to exist in as many places at once as they like. I doubt it works like that, but the notion of having islands of transistors on a chip that can still work when there are no wires between them, that’s still pretty cool.

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