China’s reach into space has extended to the Americas with a 450-ton, $50 million satellite and space mission control station built by the Chinese military in the Patagonian desert in Argentina. The station, built in March, is an important event in China’s race to become the first to explore the dark side of the moon. In some ways, though, this space station serves more than just as a research station for the benefit of mankind; in the US’ eyes, it is beginning to look more and more like China’s way of expanding its reach, although China stresses the US is jumping to premature conclusions.
The isolated base, reports the New York Times, is one of the most striking symbols of Beijing’s long push to transform Latin America and shape its future for generations to come — often in ways that directly undermine the United States’ political, economic and strategic power in the region. Beijing’s dominance in much of the region — and what it means for America’s waning stature — is starting to come into sharp focus.
China’s Chang’e 4 mission to the far side of the moon, planned for sometime before 2020 could eventually lead to the placement of a radio telescope for use by astronomers, something that would help “fill a void” in man’s knowledge of the universe, according to Zou Yongliao with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ moon exploration department.
China’s exploration of the Moon’s far side could eventually lead to the placement of a radio telescope for use by astronomers, something that would help “fill a void” in man’s knowledge of the universe. Radio transmissions from Earth are unable to reach the moon’s far side, making it an excellent location for sensitive instruments.
The moon’s far hemisphere is never directly visible from Earth and while it has been photographed, with the first images appearing in 1959, it has never been explored. A pioneering radio telescope on the moons virgin far side, will give it an unobstructed window on the cosmos that was confirmed June, 2016 when an agreement was announced between the Netherlands and China, that a Dutch-built radio antenna will travel to the Moon aboard the Chinese Chang’e 4 satellite and usher in a new era of radio astronomy allowing for the study of objects that might otherwise be invisible or hidden in other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.
“Radio astronomers study the universe using radio waves, light coming from stars and planets, for example, which is not visible with the naked eye,” commented Heino Falke – a professor of Astroparticle Physics and Radio Astronomy at Radboud University. “We can receive almost all celestial radio wave frequencies here on Earth. We cannot detect radio waves below 30 MHz, however, as these are blocked by our atmosphere. It is these frequencies in particular that contain information about the early universe, which is why we want to measure them.”
A relay orbiter will launch in 2018 for the Moon-Earth L2 point and a lander and rover will follow six months later. To the surprise of geologists in the international lunar science community, the package does not seem to include an instrument dedicated to studying the elemental chemistry of those never-before-sampled far side rocks.
The Apollo basin, the mission’s most likely target, is a large, flat double-ring impact basin on the lunar far side. A huge dark area covering much of the southern hemisphere is the South Pole-Aitken basin.
“As only the Moon’s South Pole can receive sunlight in most of its area throughout the year, we want to land at such a place where there might be abundant sunshine and possibly water to build a robotic research station to carry out relevant research using resources there,” said Wu Weiren, chief designer involved in China’s Chang’e lunar exploration program. “Nobody has ever landed there yet. So it will be the first landing if we make it. But there are some other countries that are preparing for that.”
In what will be a first for humanity, China is aiming to land at the Moon’s South Pole in order to establish a research station and investigate potential resources, a senior official with China’s lunar exploration program has said. The far side’s terrain is rugged, with a multitude of impact craters and relatively few flat lunar maria, including one of the largest craters in the Solar System, the South Pole–Aitken basin. With the first images appearing in 1959, it has never been explored.
The basin is the largest known impact crater in the solar system, nearly 2,500 kilometers wide and 13 kilometers deep. Meanwhile, a ‘research station’ on the ‘peaks of eternal light’ at the Lunar South Pole would prevent anyone else from approaching.
A Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics senior astrophysicist, Martin Elvis, has sounded the alarm of how an unfriendly power – the Chinese for example – could seize control of an important piece of lunar real estate. They could do it legally by exploiting provisions of the Outer Space Treaty, that bars any nation — and by extension, corporation — from owning property on a celestial body, but a loophole in the pact may amount to the same thing, warns Elvis.
The real estate in question are the so-called “peaks of eternal light” around the permanently shadowed craters at the Lunar South Pole. Unlike the Earth, which is tilted so the poles are in six months of darkness and six months of light, the moon is almost perfectly aligned with its orbit around the sun. Because of the way the moon tilts, these peaks are bathed in sunlight for most if not all of the time, which means you can have an almost continuous power supply, ideal for a photovoltaic power station.
Thus this part of the moon would be perfect places to erect solar power stations that would support mining operations in the nearby craters, where water and other valuable resources such as Helium 3 have been deposited over billions of years.
Elvis said that provisions in the treaty allow nations to exploit resources, including through establishing research stations, and bar others from disrupting such endeavors. In some cases, this could amount to de facto ownership, Elvis said. As China and Japan plan moon landings, and corporate leaders eye their own space ventures, the loophole has gained in importance.
The NY Times suggests that the base is one of China’s ways of reaching out to other countries to show that there is indeed cooperation among compatriots in the race for space.
Antennas and other equipment that support space missions, like the kind China now has here in Patagonia, can increase China’s intelligence-gathering capabilities, experts say.
“A giant antenna is like a giant vacuum cleaner,” said Dean Cheng, a former congressional investigator who studies China’s national security policy. “What you are sucking up is signals, data, all sorts of things.”
The US, according to The Diplomat, is of the popular conclusion that China’s space station is also being used to spy on its neighbors from space, or at least, to listen to transmissions using its satellite dish. The Chinese side is being very specific about their use of the space station, however. Time and again, the officials explained that the ground station will be used for deep space transmissions as well as the impending moon mission.
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