It sounds like something out of a Hollywood blockbuster or perhaps an epic video game – a “megaship” that spans miles. It wouldn’t be for crossing oceans, but for space exploration, and it isn’t the work of fiction but is part of a new Chinese study, funded by the nation’s science and ministry and is part of Beijing’s ambitions to go boldly where no one has gone before.
The National Natural Science Foundation of China, a funding agency managed by the country’s Ministry of Science and Technology, is embarking on a five-year project to dig into the possibilities of “ultra-large spacecraft spanning kilometers,” the South China Morning Post first reported.
According to the Chinese foundation’s announcement, building such an ambitious ship would be “a major strategic aerospace equipment for the future use of space resources, exploration of the mysteries of the universe and long-term living in orbit.”
The massive spacecraft is actually one of ten total projects that the Chinese team is reported to be exploring, but if it is one of the five that is ultimately selected, it could receive up to $2.3 million in funding to begin development. Such an amount likely wouldn’t pay for much, but even that much in investment proves that China is committed to the overall project.
For now, the foundation wants scientists and other researchers to determine how new, lightweight design methods could limit the amount of construction material that has to be lofted into orbit, as well as determining what new techniques will need to be developed for the safe assembly of such a massive structure.
The project is so ambitious that it might seem more like science fiction. For one, a miles-long spacecraft would dwarf the International Space Station, which is just 356 feet in length. As the pop culture website ScreenRant.com reported, “If this new spacecraft was even just two miles long, that’d make it nearly 30x longer than the ISS. The spacecraft would even be longer than a Star Destroyer, which measures just under one mile long. Should the ship reach three miles, four miles, or anything longer, it becomes more and more mind-blowing.”
Price will certainly be an issue – the ISS cost roughly $150 billion. However, this isn’t something China is looking to have ready anytime soon, and Beijing has proven it knows how to play the long game.
“I think it’s entirely feasible,” former NASA chief technology Mason Peck, now a professor of aerospace engineering at Cornell University, told Live Science. “I would describe the problems here not as insurmountable impediments, but rather problems of scale.”
One part of the plan would call for a modular spacecraft that is built in multiple launches and require a space-based assembly. This could solve the issue of the weight, but it also plays on China’s strength. That Great Wall was built one brick at a time after all.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.
Image: Chinese Internet.