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.
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.
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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.