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China Taking Over the Moon? Bigelow Aerospace Worried October 21, 2011

Posted by Nick Azer in : Bigelow Aerospace, China, Frontiers , add a comment

Alan Boyle over at the awesome MSNBC Cosmic Log has a great article about China’s moon colonization presence, and how it has private space heavyweight Bigelow Aerospace concerned…

Will China Take Over The Moon?

“Is China on course to surpass the United States as the world’s space superpower and stake a claim on the moon in the next 15 years? Billionaire space executive Robert Bigelow is deeply worried about that scenario — and he says Americans need a “kick in the ass” to respond to the challenge.” -Alan Boyle, “Will China Take Over The Moon?“, Cosmic Log

The post is one of the better overviews I’ve seen on why the Moon at all, why China’s leading, and where Bigelow and other private space efforts fit into the moon colonization.

The potential tension between a private-ruled lunar future and China’s preferred UN-style moon is fascinating…and rising, as both sides get closer to serious business. To me, history shows private enterprise opens the way (the American West, for example—government was involved, but it really didn’t develop until more personal, private influence became feasible), but it’s a different world (worlds?) now.

In terms of giving the U.S. a “kick in the ass” (as Bigelow puts it), I think switching the focus from NASA to private space is intended as one—U.S. companies within our free enterprise could theoretically be a much more powerful force than U.S. government presence could ever be. The settlement of Oregon and Washington is a similar example: England was competing for it, and co-managed the territory, but the influx of American settlers tipped the region in the American direction (with England settling for modern British Columbia).

For the full range of Bigelow’s colorful opinions on the lunar situation and details on China’s status, click through to the complete article

China Reveals First Chang’e-2 Photos! November 10, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in : Chang'e, Chang'e-2, China, selenography, Sinus Iridium (Bay of Rainbows), Wen Jiabao , 5comments

China has released the first photos from it’s recently-launched Chang’e-2 lunar orbiter!

Released with some fanfare (that’s the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, there. [Editor’s note: originally had Jiabao as the “head of state”; that would actually be the president, Hu Jintao, not the premier, Jiabao]), the images get more or less straight to the point: they’re of the Bay of Rainbows (Sinus Iridium), which China has slated to be the potential landing location of it’s Chang’e-3 rover mission.

The images include a 3-D map, and have a resolution of ~1.3 meters (for comparison, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has resolution up to 1 m [PDF]).

Check out the official Chinese release page for all the images :) (A rough translation notes the last image is labeled as “antarctic”, so it’s unclear if that’s also a Bay of Rainbows crater, or one near the lunar south pole.)

China’s Lead Lunar Scientist Speaks On China’s—and the Moon’s—Status October 28, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in : Asian Space Race, China , 2comments

Recently, The Global Times posted an interview with China’s lead lunar scientist, Ouyang Ziyuan, that proves to be extremely interesting, both in terms of China’s current view and thoughts on the Moon in general.

The interview starts out asking about the reasoning behind China’s program at all:

“Strictly speaking, China is a developing country. Some people argue that rather than explore the moon, we should concentrate on dealing with problems on Earth. It is understandable.” -Ouyang Ziyuan, “China Has No Desire For New Space Race“, Global Times

Ziyuan goes on to detail the economic thinking:

“There are unimaginable abundant natural resources on the moon, such as rare earths, or uranium and titanium ores. The titanium ore reserve on the moon is the same size as the whole of China.

Although we are not able to exploit these resources due to the extremely high cost and technological limitations, as scientists, we have the responsibility to prove the existence of these resources and inform the people.

The moon has a very huge energy reserve. Japanese scientists recently came up with a design idea that if humanity could build a moon belt for solar power generation and transmitting energy back to the earth, human energy needs could be permanently satisfied.” -Ouyang Ziyuan

As fun as the idea of uranium mining on the Moon sounds, this is the first time I’ve seen the titanium reserves so prominently touted. Even if the current means to collect these resources isn’t feasible, once their amounts on the Moon are proven, then theoretically the financial motivation will develop to support lunar programs (like Ziyuan’s).

The Japanese solar idea Ziyuan refers to the Shimizu Corporation‘s recent proposal to build a “Luna Ring” to basically solve Earth’s energy needs with imported solar; check out their project site for a ton of graphics and information of how it could work.

What’s noticeably absent is any mention of helium-3 mining. Ziyuan himself provided a seminal quote on that back in 2006:

“We will provide the most reliable report on helium-3 to mankind. Whoever first conquers the moon will benefit first.” -Ouyang Ziyuan, “Race to the Moon for Nuclear Fuel“, Wired Magazine

While the resources he notes now are different, the importance he stresses on utilizing the Moon’s potential is the same.

In the new Global Times article, he makes a point I’m not sure I agree with:

“The world is witnessing the climax of the second round of lunar exploration.”

The second round, to me, is just getting started. Unless he considers the development of private enterprise a third round, in which case, the second (civic) age is turning.

“If China doesn’t explore the moon, we will have no say in international lunar exploration and can’t safeguard our proper rights and interests.”

Another interesting point: the idea that a nation not involved will have no control over the policies which could, in the end, greatly affect their power supply (and therefore economies). We’d like to think an international administration would be in place to govern things evenly, but even if the governing structure is balanced, the actual political influence may fall to the participants (and the biggest ones, at that).

He goes on to quote a stat on Apollo that’s pretty awesome:

“The contribution of the Apollo project of the US is amazing. According to one calculation, the input-output ratio is 1:14. It drove the development of high-tech worldwide and made the US a leader in the high-tech field for almost 20 years.”

I’d heard Apollo’s tech contribution touted, but a 1:14 output is tremendous! I didn’t find where the calculation comes from, and clearly (as Ziyuang does note) Apollo was much larger than anything under consideration now…but even a 1:2 output would be of value to a nation.

So, is this a new space race?

“I am strongly against seeing lunar exploration as a race. The second round of lunar exploration is quite different from the first one conducted by the US and the former Soviet Union, which was a struggle for hegemony in space.”

“Those who highlight China’s alleged ambitions for control may have different agendas and motivations.”

I find this an at least mild contradiction; such dramatic interest in lunar resources and protecting China’s influence there probably isn’t motivated solely by a desire for economic equality and sharing. Even if that was the motive, the idea that would last if one nation (China or otherwise) was within grasp of being in control is naive. The temptation to assert can—and will—be very powerful.

He describes China’s position vs. Japan and others, utilizing an interesting analogy:

“Japan has better equipment and India has the advantage over China in computer software.

In the final round of a marathon, several groups form. We could use this analogy to describe the current situation in the field of lunar exploration. The US and Russia belong to the leading group with the strongest strength.”

He states that China is in the second group, along with probe-launchers Europe, Japan, and India; with the rest of the nations preparing to lace up composing the third group.

His take on the U.S. program is a pragmatic, and shrewd, one:

“However, the US suffered great trauma from the financial crisis. Due to the slow economic recovery, the US couldn’t afford a huge lunar exploration plan with a total investment of $108 billion. But it is noticeable that although the US suspended the Constellation program, it didn’t give up rocket or spaceship research.”

And lastly, besides some essentially question-dodging on timetables for any landing and on int’l cooperation, he provides his take on India:

“India has always taken China as a competitor in this regard. It is determined to realize manned lunar exploration by 2020. We need to understand India. As a large country, it needs lunar exploration to spur technological development and invigorate the national spirit.”

Again, his quote about not desiring a race seems contradictory if China “needs to understand India”. It’s also a compliment to India, and an indication that they could truly prove a pivotal player.

What do you think of Ziyuan’s takes?

China Launches Chang’e-2 Lunar Orbiter; ‘Asian Space Race’ in Full Swing? October 2, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in : Asian Space Race, Chang'e, Chang'e-2, China , 1 comment so far

China has launched their secondo lunar orbiter, the Chang’e-2!

Coming a year and a half after the end of the successful Chang’e-1 orbiter mission, China’s new orbiter adds muscle as the CNSA scouts future landing sites, including the Bay of Rainbows.

While similar to the Chang’e-1, this mission will be more “sophisticated“:

“We started assembling Chang’e 2 at the end of 2008. The equipment and payloads on the satellite are combination of the old, the renovated and the new. This has raised challenges for us to ensure all equipment reaches the same standard.”- Tai Ping, ‘Vice Chief Director Chang’e Satellite System’,”New Scientific Targets for Chang’e-2“, People’s Daily Online

Those landing sites the orbiter will be scouting are for the Chang’e-3 lander, set for touchdown in 2013. Also set for landing in 2013 is the Indian-Russian Chandrayaan-2, not to mention landers from the Google Lunar X PRIZE…it’ll be busy up there come the end of ’13! :)

This brings up an interesting assertion by the Wall Street Journal last week—that this is the throes of an “Asian Space Race”, with China, India and Japan beginning to duke it out.

The idea of a new, regional ‘race’ could be backed up by the recent announcement that India’s Chandrayaan-2 will have all Indian payloads, contrasted with its predecessor, which carried (very successful) international payloads.

Regardless, the Chinese program is rolling along nicely, and it should be fun to watch as the Chang’e-2 starts to deliver results and India’s Chandrayaan-2 warms up.

For a neat video from Chinese media on the mission, click here, and here’s video of the launch itself:

Updates on China: Rock Lab; International Lunar Network Still Rolling? March 16, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in : Chang'e, China, International Lunar Network (ILN) , add a comment

Space.com has an article up about Chinese plans for a lunar rock receiving lab, as well as general updates on the Chinese program.

Presenting at the 41st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), Chinese experts noted plans for their processing center, which sounds roughly equivalent to NASA’s famed Lunar Receiving Laboratory. China currently plans to have the Chang’e-3 lander down in 2013, with  the Chang’e-4 rock hauler touching down in 2017 and the Chang’e-2 luanr orbiter launching later this year.

There’s an almost aside quote towards the end of the article that caught my attention:

“”In addition they have started participating in discussions for the International Lunar Network (ILN) mission…” – Ray Arvidson, Washington University Professor

Details on that ILN have been slim so far, but to see a current mention after NASA’s cancellation of Constellation is interesting. A NASA site says about the project:

“NASA will undertake landed lunar missions and is architecting a conceptual “global lunar network” as a backbone of its envisioned robotic surface activities.  This concept, called the International Lunar Net-work (ILN), aims to provide an organizing theme for all landed science missions in the 2010s by involving each landed station as a node in a geophysical network.” –NASA Science Mission Site, ILN

Clearly, with NASA taking a step back, someone else would likely step in to ‘architect’ the continuation of the network…and from that quote about the recent Chinese “discussions” about it, it sounds like someone is. Guess international lunar development will roll on, with or without NASA, at just the same pace :)

Orbiting Atlas #1!: Sinus Iridum (The Bay of Rainbows) December 15, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in : Chang'e, China, Google Moon, Orbiting Atlas, selenography , 2comments

Welcome to my brand new weekly feature—Orbiting Atlas! Each Monday, I’ll break out my lunar globe and trek to a different selenographic point of interest, giving you a tour of each location’s features, history, and potential :)

The first entry gets the honor for being in the news recently…so without further ado:

Sinus Iridum—The Bay of Rainbows

China announced a few weeks ago that the destination for it’s first lunar rover (and mission of any kind on the surface), Chang’e-3, will be Sinus Iridum. NASA and private enterprise have focused more on the solar-soaked South Pole and helium-3-happy Mare Tranquillitatis, so Sinus Iridum is an interesting choice, and something of a departure.

What about it may have caught China’s eye? Let’s look at the details…

The circular “Bay”—given its name by Italian astronomer Giovanni Riccioli–is ringed by the Montes Jura, with the cape-like Promontorium Laplace jutting out along the northeast. The Bay has a diameter of ~149 miles, and lays at the northwest corner of the large, western plain Mare Imbrium, about 1,225 miles northwest of the Apollo 11 landing site and 620 miles northwest of the Apollo 15 site.

Mare Imbrium’s lava plains are nearly flat, extending into Sinus Iridum (once a crater, with the southeast wall having been eliminated in an Imbrium event). These plains are prime territory for helium-3, and that stretch where there was once the southeastern wall may make for a revealing geological study.

It’s figured there’s a large amount of helium-3 on the Moon, but the distribution is unknown—so by scouting out a different mare, China could dig up valuable information on a region not already targeted for ‘gold rush’. Perhaps we’ll see a private company follow the Chinese lead, and scope it out for themselves…

Sinus Imbrium was a location filmed in 2007 by Japan’s orbiter, Kaguya, and it’s HDTV camera. Check out the amazing video below (and also be sure to explore the Bay in Google Earth 5.0’s spiffy Moon view!):


Check back next week, and every monday, for more selenographic exploration :)

China Announces Chang'e-2 Launch Date and Chang'e-3 Lander Details! November 30, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in : Chang'e, China, lander , 2comments

The China Daily has reported that China’s lunar program has set the launch date for it’s second lunar orbiter—the Chang’e-2—as well as announced more details of it’s Chang’e-3 lunar lander mission:

“[The Chang’e-2] will orbit 100 km closer to the moon and be equipped with better facilities. We expect to acquire more scientific data about the moon with increased accuracy.” -Ye Peijian, chief designer of the Chang’e-1(“China to take next leap with moon probe“, The China Daily)

The upgraded Change-2 (originally designed as simply a backup for the Chang’e-1) will launch in October 2010.

Meanwhile, they also announced the Chang’e-3 lander’s destination: it will touch down “before 2013” in the Sinus Iridum—the ‘Bay of Rainbows’.

The article also notes the Chinese desire to explore resources on the lunar surface—which of course means helium-3.

The selection of the Sinus Iridum is interesting, then—a potential harvesting hotspot? I’ll have more on the location later this week as I get my new weekly selenography series kicked into gear, so check back for that :)

China's Chang'e-1 Lunar Orbiter Impacts Moon, Ending 2007 Mission March 1, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in : Base Race, Chang'e, China , add a comment

Diagram of the impact from China Daily

Today at around 4:13pm Beijing time, China’s 2007-launched Chang’e-1 lunar orbiter ended its mission with a controlled impact on the lunar surface (meant as both a disposal and a test descent for future, lander missions).

The Chang’e-1, which produced notable imagery (including a complete map image of the lunar surface—click here for a humongous file of that from SpaceRef), is the first of three stages of the Chang’e program–the second phase is a rover that will land on the lunar surface and collect samples, with the third stage (~2017) being a lunar rover that will bring/launch the mineral samples back to Earth.

I’ve embedded below a video highlighting all three stages of the Chang’e program. The video has a lot of spectacular rendered imagery, some of the best space-related animation I’ve seen; check it out:

Picture of the Week: Festival Coming Soon October 5, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Chang'e, China, Helium-3, Mythology, Picture of the Week , add a comment

That is that first Chinese photo of the Moon, taken by their Chang’e-1 (嫦娥一号) Lunar orbiter craft last year, as part of an imaging/exploration mission (including for concentrations of helium-3).

Check out this really interesting look from the China National Space Administration (CNSA) at the Chang’e-1 program and its goals, from the Chang’e project leader, Luan Enjie. He’s exceptionally well-spoken– here’s a great interview where he talks about his take on the differences from this space race (that I refer to as the “Base Race”) and the space rae of the 1950’s and 60’s.

The Chang’e program is named after the Chinese goddess of the moon, who (notably) only lives on the moon.

“The U.S. is the leader in deep space exploration.”
-Luan Enjie, opening statement of his description of the Chang’e-1 program

The way the Chinese space program has been rolling along in the past year, I think we could be seeing a ‘chang’e’ to that fact in the very near future ;)

First-ever Chinese Spacewalk (News) September 28, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : China, Current News, taikonaut, Youtube , add a comment

That is a full video of the first-ever Chinese spacewalk, conducted by the CNSA on September 27th (technically yesterday in the U.S., given the international date line).

The ‘taikonaut‘ (as Chinese astronauts are called) was Zhai Zhigang, a fighter pilot and son of a snack seller.

Clearly, this is an enormous (and particularly visible) step forward for the Chinese space program, and perhaps something of a wake-up call to the fact that the official language of the Moon could end up being Chinese. ;)

Below is a video with a translation of Zhigang’s comments, and a narration: