A multitude of activities among Chinese private and state-owned aerospace companies this year testify to China’s growing ambitions for economic and military dominance of space. On October 19, the Academy of Aerospace Solid Propulsion Technology (AASPT) – which is owned by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) – tested “the world’s most powerful powder rocket engine with the highest thrust at this day”. The 500-ton thrust is designed to power the next iteration of China’s heavy-lift rockets, which would meet various demands for space missions such as crewed moon landings, deep space exploration and the extraction of extraterrestrial resources.
The exploration of natural space resources is on the minds of Chinese policymakers. The question is: what does Joe Biden think?
In April of this year, the Chinese company Shenzen Origin Space Technology Co. Ltd. launched the NEO-1, the first commercial spacecraft dedicated to exploiting space resources, from asteroids to the lunar surface.
The falling costs of space launches and spacecraft technology, alongside existing infrastructure, provide a unique opportunity to explore the extraction of extraterrestrial resources. Current technologies are equipped to analyze and categorize asteroids in our solar system with a limited degree of certainty. One of the payloads accompanying the NEO-1 was the Yuanwang-1, or “Little hubble” satellite, which searches the stars for possible asteroid mining targets.
The launch of NEO-1 marks a new stage in the development of private satellites, adding a new player to space companies, including the Japanese company Astroscale. Private identification of asteroids via the Sentinel Space Telescope was supported by NASA until 2015. As private investment in space increases, the end goal is to be able to harvest resources to bring to Earth.
According to the website of the Shenzen Origin Space Technology company:
“Through the development and launch of the spacecraft, Origin Space is able to perform low Earth orbit space waste cleanup and prototype technology verification for the acquisition of space resources, and at the same time demonstrate future technologies related to defense against asteroids. ” Ultimately, it will be a matter of gradually reducing the cost of the unit of weight launched and the reliability of booster rockets – before fundamentally new engines lower launch costs even further.
The April launch demonstrates that China is already succeeding while the West is spinning the wheels. The much vaunted Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries (DSI)
It’s a shame, given that the supply chain crisis here on Earth – coupled with the global green energy transition – is increasing the demand for strategic minerals that are increasingly difficult to find on our stressed planet. environmental. And here, China currently has a 90% monopoly on rare earth mining and processing (REE). The 17 REE minerals essential for modern computing and manufacturing technologies for everything from solar panels to semiconductors.
Resource-hungry China is also heavily involved in global supply chains for critical minerals, including cobalt, tungsten and lithium. As I wrote before, China’s hold on both upstream and downstream markets is staggering. With 30% of the world’s ore mined, 80% of the world’s processing facilities, and an ever-growing list of high dollar investments around the world, China claims more than $ 36 billion invested in mining projects alone. Africa.
Beijing’s space program makes it clear that the Chinese would also like to tighten their grip on space resources. According to research, it is estimated that a small asteroid about 200 meters long and rich in platinum could be worth up to $ 300 million. Merrill Lynch predicts that the space industry, including the alien mining industry, will reach $ 2.7 trillion over the next three decades. Rare earths are quite common in the solar system, but their degree remains unknown. The most sought after are the M-type asteroids which are predominantly made of metal and measure hundreds of cubic meters. While these aren’t the most common, the 27,115 near-Earth asteroids are bound to contain a few. This – and military applications – is undoubtedly a determining factor in China’s ever-growing space ambitions.
A a new gold rush in the extraction of space resources has sparked a new era of miners seeking to find their fortunes. The reality is that the industry cannot take off without further innovations in deep space observation, on-board power, extraction process and logistics support in low and high Earth orbit.
As the uberization of space draws closer, the prices of space launches are falling rapidly. Privately funded satellites like the NEO-1 or Sentinel are the first of many new economic ventures deploying technologies essential to the viability of solar system mining projects. Private launches by SpaceX and Blue Origin will provide a low-cost satellite deployment for further testing of crafting and classification telescopes.
At present, the cost of capturing and processing asteroids is much higher than traditional mining techniques. That is changing, but like in traditional mining and rare earth refining, China is far ahead of the United States in terms of industrial policy and new investment. China is aware of the riches of space, while the United States does not support their public and private space missions. The United States cannot afford to cede this industry – as it has so many others – to its competitors. If we do, the joke is on US, and it won’t be funny.
With assistance from James Grant and Sean Moroney