The National Natural Science Foundation of China has proposed a five-year research project to investigate the creation of the ultra-large spacecraft. Scientists have been tasked with meeting an “urgent demand” for the development of ultra-large spacecraft. Studying the problems of designing lightweight structures, as well as future on-orbit assembly and control, will be part of the preliminary research.

Despite its ambiguity, the idea could be useful for future megaprojects such as massive space-based solar power installations. These structures would be situated in geostationary orbit and would span kilometers. These stations would harvest solar energy and use microwaves to send it to Earth.

According to the project outline in the physical and mathematical sciences attachment to released report, the kilometer-scale and the ultra-large spacecraft are “key strategic aerospace devices for the prospective utilization space resources, investigation of the wonders of the universe, as well as a long-term habitation in orbit.”

According to an original report by South China Morning Post, this project would concentrate on reducing the weight of this spacecraft to cut down on the number of construction and launches. The project’s research content also includes modeling of the on-orbit dynamics as well as ground simulation assessments of dynamics and management of the space construction process.

It’s one of ten study proposals that were released earlier in the month. A combination of five projects is likely to get funding, with a maximum expenditure of about $2.3 million. The financial announcement from China’s science and technology ministry is intended for early study into the extremely difficult and expensive problems of creating ultra-large spacecraft.

Simultaneously, it suggests that another component of the capabilities required for massive undertakings like space-based solar generation is being investigated. Other ideas, such as a massive, space-assembled space telescope, are now being developed and could supply relevant technologies. The CAS (Chinese Academy of Sciences) and Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology are now working on the Ultra-Large Aperture On-Orbit Assembly Project.

Through collaboration between Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics, and Physics (CIOMP) under the CAS and University of Surrey in the UK, the project aims to address the issues of automated, smart on-orbit assembly of the aperture telescope that has a 10-meter-level. Meanwhile, the CAST (China Academy of Space Technology) is building space-based solar power test sites in Chongqing. CAST is now working toward small-scale electricity generation experiments in 2022, with power generation facilities being built around 2030 that is a megawatt-level. With the help of CAST, a research vessel conducted microwave transmission experiments (300-meter-altitude) in the East China Sea.

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