Can China Build a Moon Colony in 10 Years?

The Chinese space agency announced their nation is planning to place a moon station on the lunar surface within a decade. Zhang Kejian, leader of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), made the announcement on Space Day, April 24, according to a report published in the news agency Xinhua.

The Chinese moon station will be built near the Moon’s south pole, using 3D printing technology. Water has been detected collecting in frozen pools at the poles of our planetary companion.

“We hope [to] test some technologies, and do some exploring for the building of a joint lunar base shared by multiple countries. For example, can we build houses on the moon with lunar soil using 3D printing technology?” asked Wu Yanhua, deputy head of the CNSA.

A moon colony could help lead the way for human colonization of space.
A human colony on the Moon could pave the way for the colonization of space. Image credit: Kellepics

It’s Almost Launch Time!

China’s space plans include launching their newest lunar probe, the Chang’e-5 to the Moon by the end of 2019. That mission, originally scheduled for takeoff in the second half of 2017, was delayed following a failure of the Long March 6 Y2 rocket in July of that year.

“China will launch the Chang’e-5 lunar probe to collect and return lunar samples back to Earth at the end of 2019… Shaoshan, the hometown of China’s late leader Mao Zedong, will be one of the permanent storage centers of the lunar samples,” Zhang said in a report published by the Xinhua News Agency.

The sample return mission will help CNSA researchers determine if material found at the lunar surface is suitable for 3D printing. A study conducted by NASA and the University of central Florida determined that the regolith found on the Martian surface could produce metal and oxygen when heated to 1648 degrees Celsius (3,000 degrees Fahrenheit). In 2020, China plans to launch their first probe to the Red Planet.

Helium-3, carried on the solar wind, could provide an ideal fuel for clean nuclear fusion reactors, producing power with little radioactive waste. However, that material is rare on Earth, as it is driven away by the magnetic field of our planet. The Moon, however, has no magnetic field, potentially making it a storehouse for the material. Studies indicate that helium-3 on the Moon is likely concentrated at the mares, or seas, on the far side of our planetary companion. Mining these deposits of helium-3 could become a driving force in the quest for nations and corporations looking to place humans on the Moon once more.

Home, Sweet Home

Later in 2019, the new Long March-5B rocket will take its maiden flight, bringing the first pieces of their planned space station, the Tiangong (or, “Heavenly Palace”) to orbit, Also called the Chinese Space Station (CSS), this orbiting habitat is due to be operational in 2022. That orbiting outpost is designed to replace the International Space Station, due for retirement in 2024.

China placed its first satellite, the Dongfanghong-1, into orbit on April 24, 1970 aboard a Long March-1 rocket. Since that time, that nation has celebrated Space Day every April 24.

“Since the launch of the first Chinese satellite in 1970, China has become one of the major space faring nations. Its state of the art space programme, including the well-established Manned Space Programme, is one of the most holistic and technologically advanced in the world,” stated Simonetta Di Pippo, Director of the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs.

“It is a beautiful and delightful sight to behold the body of the Moon.”
― Galileo Galilei, The Starry Messenger, Venice 1610: “From Doubt to Astonishment”

China recently became the first country to softly place a robotic probe on the far side of the Moon in January 2019. The Chang’e-4 released the Yutu-2 moon rover on the lunar surface soon after landing, transmitting the first photographs ever taken from the surface of the far side of the Moon. The name of the rover translates as Jade Rabbit.

Road Trip!

The China National Space Administration is also calling for international partners for an upcoming mission to explore the nature of asteroids. Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands each supplied equipment for the Chang’e-4 mission. Currently, the United States and China do not cooperate on space missions, but the Chinese government has invited international partners to work aboard their upcoming space station.

“China plans to open up the China Space Station (CSS) to all the Member States of the United Nations with opportunities for flying their space experiments on board the Station. This is… a groundbreaking project and one that will bring concrete benefits to countries for advancing their space science and technology development,” the Xinhua News Agency reports.

China currently has the second-highest investment in the world in the space program, behind only the United States. The budget of the China National Space Administration is estimated to be 8.4 billion dollars, compared to 21.5 billion dollars earmarked for NASA in 2019.

The Apollo missions conducted by NASA placed 12 people on the Moon between 1969 and 1972. The American space agency is hoping to return humans to the Moon by 2024.

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