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Dangerous nuclear-powered space exploration to get more dangerous, as China joins the race

China’s nuclear spaceships will be ‘mining asteroids and flying astronauts to the moon’ as it aims to overtake US in space race   State media publishes Chinese scientists’ ambitious plans to revolutionise space travel and exploration in coming decades, South China Morning Post, Stephen Chen: Friday, 17 November, 2017 China is on course to develop nuclear-powered space shuttles by 2040, and will have the ability to mine resources from asteroids and build solar power plants in space soon after, according to state media. The ambitious claims, made by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology – the country’s leading rocket developer and manufacturer – were published on the front page of People’s Daily on Friday.

According to the report, a new “nuclear fleet” of carrier rockets and reusable hybrid-power carriers will be ready for “regular, large scale” interplanetary flights, and carrying out commercial exploration and exploitation of natural resources by the mid-2040s.

China will catch up with the United States on conventional rocket technology by 2020, it said. In 2025, it is expected to launch a reusable suborbital carrier and start suborbital space tourism.

By 2030, it aims to put astronauts on the moon and have the capabilities to bring samples back from Mars. In the 2040s, a nuclear-powered fleet will be ready to carry out mining operations on asteroids and planets, the report said…..

“The nuclear vessels are built to colonise the solar system and beyond,” Wang Changhui, associate professor of aerospace propulsion at the School of Astronautics at Beihang University in Beijing, said…..

A nuclear spaceship would have a reactor loaded with radioactive fuel for fission – the splitting of atoms that produces large amounts of energy.

That energy could be used to generate a driving force as well as electricity for the craft’s on-board equipment….

 During the cold war, dozens of satellites equipped with various types of nuclear reactors were launched by the former Soviet Union and the United States..

But the nuclear space race was eventually postponed, partly due to its threat to humanity. In 1978, Russian spy satellite Kosmos 954 crashed and sprayed radioactive waste over an area of 124,000 square kilometres in Canada.

More than 30 dead nuclear satellites are still drifting in space and could fall to earth at any time over the next few thousand years.

“Safety issues will be the top challenge for the Chinese nuclear fleet,” Wang said. “If they come down, it will cause a global nuclear disaster.”

According to China’s space authorities, the nuclear shuttles would be docked at a transport hub that would orbit the earth. Reusable spacecraft would be used to transport people and cargo to and from the shuttles.

But even if they were permanently in space, the nuclear-powered vessels were still at risk of being hit by meteorites or even colliding with one another, Wang said.

Regardless of those concerns, a mainland space expert said the targets given in the People’s Daily report would be almost impossible to achieve…….http://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/2120425/chinas-nuclear-spaceships-will-be-mining-asteroids

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November 18, 2017 - Posted by | China, technology

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