China to establish nuclear-powered ‘moon base’ in 2028

The head of China’s lunar program has announced that the country’s lunar base, to be established at the south pole of the Moon, will be powered by nuclear power..

“We are developing a new system that uses nuclear power to meet the long-term power demand of the lunar station,” Wu Weiren, chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program, told state-run CCTV on Nov. 21.

The announcement comes just days after China’s arch-rival the United States launched its most powerful rocket and launched its Artemis mission, some 50 years after it sent its first mission to the moon.

This is the first step by the United States to send humans to the Moon. The race to space, especially to the Moon, is heating up.

In January, the media reported that Russia and China were negotiating the development of the International Lunar Research Station. According to the joint plan, the station will start hosting crew in 2030.

As for the Chinese lunar station, it is expected to be established before the end of this decade, that is, in 2028.

Artist’s representation of the International Lunar Research Station – CNSA

China’s willingness to use nuclear power could stem from the fact that it is a continuous, reliable, unlimited and affordable source of energy. If Chinese scientists manage to optimize it to power their lunar base, it will also allow astronauts to generate oxygen and water.

The chief designer did not offer details on how he wants to achieve the goal of developing nuclear power for a lunar base.

However, similar claims were made last year when Chinese space scientists revealed they were developing a powerful nuclear reactor for China’s lunar and martian missions. The project started in 2019 with the help of the government.

At the time, the researchers claimed that the reactor could produce a megawatt of electricitywhich would make it 100 times more powerful than a similar device that NASA hopes to place on the surface of the Moon by 2030.

China to establish nuclear-powered 'moon base' in 2028
Artemis 1 Mission Map

For its part, NASA announced in November 2021 that it was working to establish a “durable, high-powered, sun-independent” fission reactor on the Moon by 2030.

If we go by previous reports, China appears to be preparing to give America’s lunar ambitions some stiff competition.

Last year, the Chinese research team told the South China Morning Post that the engineering design of a prototype machine had been completed and specific crucial components had been manufactured.

China’s ambitious moon base is up and running

China will finish building its lunar station in 2028well ahead of the hitherto fixed timetable of 2035. The basic configuration of the Chinese moon base will include a nuclear-powered rover with a hopper, an orbiter and a lander.

The rover is expected to be larger than the two rovers operated by China on the moon before. Wu said nuclear power could also be used to power the hopper, a machine designed to take off from the lunar surface numerous times and bounce in and out of the constant shadow section of a crater in search of water.

Nuclear power will support the station’s communication facilities to maintain communication with Earth and power the station’s communication systems. It will also stay connected to Earth and relay signals between Earth, Mars, and deep space. China has also announced its desire to explore deep space.

China was the first country to propose building such a research station at the lunar South Pole.Woo said. At a latitude of about 89 degrees south, he said there could be 180 consecutive days of light to sustain long operations for both instruments and astronauts.

China to establish nuclear-powered 'moon base' in 2028
Conceptual impression of a Chinese lunar base. Photo: China Academy of Space Technology

Wu stated that the Chang’e 6, 7, and 8 missions would build the fundamental configuration, with Chinese astronauts landing on the Moon for the first time shortly after the completion of that phase. The station will then become a global scientific research facility where astronauts from China, Russia and other potential partner nations will occasionally work. However, the station will remain unmanned for most of the time.

This announcement of developing nuclear reactors for the moon base also comes as China is taking over the space game with record speed. The Chinese space station will be operational shortly, making it the first country in the world with an independent space presence.

In the last 15 years, China has launched five successful missions – Chang’e 1 to 5 – to orbit, land and return rock samples from the Moonincluding the first spacecraft landing on the far side of the Moon.

However, Chinese engineers continue to develop the Chang’e 6, 7 and 8 spacecraft, which are part of the fourth phase of the country’s lunar exploration program. “We need to increase the thrust power of our rockets by at least four times to support manned landings on the Moon, Mars, and transporting masses between Earth and near-Earth space,” Wu said.

With Artemis already off the ground and US astronauts expected to land on the moon in 2025, work in China could intensify.

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