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China Wants To Build A Kilometer-Long Spacecraft

China is researching ways to construct ultra-large spacecraft with a length of up to 0.6 mile (1 kilometre). But how practical is the concept, and what would such a large spacecraft be used for?

The project is part of a larger appeal for research proposals from China’s National Natural Science Foundation, which is run by the Ministry of Science and Technology. “Major strategic aerospace equipment for the future use of space resources, exploration of the mysteries of the universe, and long-term living in orbit,” according to a research outline posted on the foundation’s website.

The foundation wants experts to investigate innovative, lightweight design methods that would reduce the quantity of construction material that would have to be lofted into orbit, as well as new procedures for properly erecting such enormous structures in space.

However, the proposal only contains a $2.3 million funding, which is certainly insufficient to build or even develop such a spacecraft.

Rather, early investigations on what it would take to create such a spacecraft are proposed in the plan. This is a totally different notion than stating that they intend to begin construction on a ship.

 Getting a spacecraft, any spacecraft, into orbit is a massive undertaking that only a few countries have succeeded in accomplishing. All of these attempts have been extremely costly.

The feasibility of carrying material and even entire sections of a miles-long vessel piecemeal into orbit, where it would then be assembled into a completed ship, is what the NNSFC, a research funding agency under China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, lays out in its call for research proposals.

An artist’s illustration of a futuristic spaceship orbiting Earth.  (Image credit: Shutterstock)

But why would China want a spaceship that is ten times larger than anything else that has been built before? Artificial gravity could be the answer. Artificial gravity on board a space station could help humans avoid some of the most severe impacts of weightlessness, such as muscle atrophy and bone density loss.

Artificial gravity could make a significant difference in keeping the crew healthy on long-duration spaceflights to Mars or beyond.

China has undoubtedly made significant progress in space exploration in recent years. It has returned lunar rock samples to Earth for study, becoming the third country to do so after the United States and Russia; it has landed a rover on Mars, a feat previously accomplished only by the United States; and it has made the world’s first landing on the lunar far side.

 Furthermore, China is now constructing the Tiangong space station, which was manned for 90 days this year and is expected to eventually challenge the International Space Station.