Chinese Moon

Moon: The dark side of China's ambitions

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Fifty years after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their first steps on the Moon, our natural satellite is once again arousing interest and excitement. On January 2, China landed its Chang'e-4 module on the far side of the Moon. This was a historic first on this unexplored and long-running mysterious side. As a result, the Chinese are claiming the envied title of space power, to the great displeasure of the Americans who see this event as confirmation of the threats that the Middle Kingdom poses to all facets of their dominance. The rivalry between the two giants takes on a dimension in the conquest of space that is certainly symbolic, but also technological, economic and geostrategic. Until when will the Americans accept it?
 
Ahe Chang'e-4 probe landed in the Aitken Basin. Equipped with several instruments, notably European, its mobile robot Yutu-2 began to move on this face, invisible from the Earth. « In any case, whatever the Chinese discover, the scientific impact will be significant. ", says Michel Viso of CNES, the French space agency.
 
So far, only three countries have managed to land on the Moon's surface, some 384,000 kilometers from Earth: Russia, the United States and now China. Twelve U.S. astronauts have landed on the moon on six missions between 1969 and 1972. Since then, nothing. Our satellite seems not to have had the virtue of attracting crowds. Yet the Chinese have methodically prepared to take over the moon. Starting from scratch, they have scrupulously replicated, with a few decades of delay, the stages of the space conquest of the great nations. Their first satellite was put into orbit in 1970, while at the same time American astronauts were frolicking in the Earth's moonlight. It was not until 2003 that the first Chinese, taikonaut Yang Liwei, went into space. Since then, the race has accelerated. In the beginning, China slavishly copied Western technologies, today it is inventing and innovating. To land a spacecraft on the dark side of the Moon, real scientific feats had to be achieved, including solving the problems of communicating with the Earth from the dark side of the Moon. A performance hailed by the NASA boss in a very fair message to his Chinese counterparts.
 

An ambitious mission

The Chang'e-4 mission is scientifically complex. It's not just a matter of putting a spacecraft on the moon. The mission is twofold. It began six months ago with the launch of a relay satellite in orbit behind the moon. The objective is to ensure connections with our good old Earth. On January 2, the lander and a rover were placed on the Moon. In addition to a series of sophisticated instruments to study the lunar surface, the lander module also carries an aluminium alloy container filled with plant and insect seeds. Zhang Yuanxun - chief designer of the container - told the Chongqing Morning Post (according to China Daily) : « The container will send potatoes, arabidopsis (arabette) seeds and silkworm eggs to the surface of the Moon. The eggs will hatch into silkworms, which can produce carbon dioxide, while the potatoes and seeds emit oxygen through photosynthesis. Together they can create a simple ecosystem on the Moon. "
 
This aluminium greenhouse on the lunar ground should allow researchers to observe the growth process of animals and plants on our natural satellite. Challenges for this experiment include temperature control and energy supply. The scientists in charge of the project have therefore equipped their container with a real autonomous air-conditioning system as well as specially designed batteries with a very high energy density. This space gardening kit paves the way for a larger project: setting up a human outpost on the Moon.
 
 
The Chang'e-4 mission didn't land anywhere on the moon. The moon landing site is called the South Pole-Aitken Basina vast impact region in the southern hemisphere. Measuring about 2,500 km in diameter and 13 km deep, it is the largest single-impact basin on the Moon and one of the largest in the solar system. This basin is also a source of great interest to scientists, and not only because of its size. In recent years, it has been discovered that the area contains large amounts of water ice. It is believed that it is the consequences of meteor and asteroid impacts that have left water ice, which has survived because this region is permanently in the shadow of the sun. Without direct sunlight, the water ice in these craters was not subjected to sublimation and chemical dissociation.
 
As a result of this discovery, several space exploration specialists have stated that the South Pole-Aitken Basin would be the ideal location for a lunar base. In this regard, the Chang'e-4 mission is studying the possibility, even for humans, of living and working on the moon. Another interesting aspect of this mission is that it will also evaluate whether terrestrial organisms can grow and thrive in the lunar gravity - which is about 16 percent of Earth's. The mission will also evaluate whether the Earth's gravity can be used to support the growth and development of terrestrial organisms. Previous studies on the ISS have shown that long-term exposure to microgravity can have significant health effects, but little is known about the long-term effects of low gravity. This suggests that the Chinese are not alone in their desire to make a long-term move to the Moon. Indeed, the inventory of projects shows that soon we will be rushing to the Moon!
 

We're going to hustle to the moon

India hopes to join the closed club of countries capable of moon landing by sending the Chandrayaan-2 mission soon, which will include a moon-launcher, an Indian mobile robot and ". a European mini-robot built in the Netherlands "Bernard Foing, an astrophysicist at the European Space Agency (ESA), told AFP. The mission should be launched by the Indian space agency next February, according to this expert, director of the International Lunar Exploration Working Group (ILEWG). India sent the first Chandrayaan-1 mission to orbit the moon in 2008.
 
Israel also plans to enter the race, with a 150 kg Beresheet lunar gun manufactured by the private Israeli company SpaceIL, one of the finalists in the international Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP) competition. Competing teams had to be able to moon a mobile robot by March 31, 2018. This competition ended without a winner and without a final award ceremony. However, SpaceIL continued its momentum. Its robot should be launched in February by a Falcon 9 rocket from the American firm SpaceX.
The purpose of the mission is to show that Israel is capable of landing the moon, deploying a mobile robot, depositing scientific and cultural payloads. ", explains Bernard Foing.
2019 will be a key year for lunar exploration ", he considers. After the missions in orbit around the Moon in the 2000s, we are taking a new step forward. « It is the beginning of a robotic village on the Moon, with devices launched by new countries and different types of actors, especially commercial ones. ".

READ ALSO IN UP : Small lunar village, with a breathtaking view of the Earth and Claudie Haigneré: her dream of a lunar village (video)

Japan plans to send a small lunar lander, called SLIM, to study a specific volcanic area on the lunar ground around 2020-2021. Russia, for its part, is continuing to work on the Luna 27 robotic mission, which is to explore the South Pole ice, with European participation, in a few years' time.
The United States, which is preparing to celebrate the first steps of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon on July 20, 1969, is also preparing the rest. In 2017 President Donald Trump signed a directive ordering NASA to return to the Moon as a first step before going to Mars, relying on the private sector.

READ ALSO IN UP : The space race is open to private companies. And that changes everything.

A very advanced program, the American Orion spacecraft, manufactured by Lockheed Martin and for which Europe is supplying the service module, is due to make an automatic flight around the Moon in 2020. Then it should carry four astronauts in 2023 for an eight-day round trip around our satellite. NASA also announced in December that it has chosen nine private companies to build landers and deliver equipment to the Moon, to which the Americans want to send astronauts back in a decade.
 

Treasure hunt

The space race is not just about science. It's a fierce competition for minerals. The asteroids and probably the lunar soil are full of rare and precious metals. There is an abundance of iron, but also rare minerals that the high-tech industry is particularly fond of: cobalt, titanium, antimony, tungsten, thorium, silicon...
In space, we could find everything we need to build space stations, to transform the water in space into liquid oxygen and hydrogen, the fuel for spaceships. Some asteroids have fortunes. The iron in asteroid 16 Psyche alone is worth about 10 quintillion dollars. This number tells you nothing; this is normal because it is written with an impressive number of zeros: 10,000,000,000,000,000 $. How do the scientists -in this case NASA- have they come up with that assessment? They estimated, to within a few kilos, that this asteroid contained 17,000,000,000,000,000 cubic metres of iron (17 million km3). At €80 per tonne, do the math.
 
Treasures that attract covetousness, all the more so as, in this matter, we are at the level of the Far-West There are almost no regulations. In 2015, the US Senate had unanimously approved a law recognizing that "every individual" is entitled to "the right to life, liberty and security of the person. the right to possess, appropriate, transport, use and sell any space resource ». This text is based on the 1967 treatise on space and circumvents it in a skilful semantic gymnastics. The United Nations of the day-we were in the middle of the Cold War and the USSR had just launched its first Sputnik-had engraved in international law the impossibility for a state to declare its sovereignty over a space body. But the treaty says nothing about the exploitation of resources. Who does not say a word consents? The American text of 2015 therefore specifies that one cannot own a space body. So be it. On the other hand, we will be able to monopolise its resources, especially mining resources. Nuance.
A tailor-made law for American companies created for the exploitation of space resources. But one that could also unexpectedly serve the interests of the new space giant, China.
 

High risk vacuum

When it comes to the conquest of space, anything seems possible. The relative legal vacuum allows for all speculation. Who will settle a dispute between Chinese and Americans over a seam of lunar ice? There is no Space Tribunal; instead, there are space armies ready for wars that were thought to be reserved for science fiction films. In 2018, Donald Trump launched the creation of a space force. New technologies are multiplying: anti-satellite lasers, cyber attacks, jamming of transmissions, missiles fired from the Earth to destroy a satellite, as China tested in 2007 and continues to do so on a blank canvas .
 
Space laser (artist representation) - Wikipedia
 
There is no equivalent to the laws of war for space. Does one satellite colliding with another constitute an "attack"? How to define the proportionality of a response? Should civilian satellites be protected from retaliation, but what about satellites for civilian and military use? And how do we respond to a cyber-attack whose perpetrator is uncertain? The damage caused by such military interventions could be extremely serious for the economy and functioning of the targeted states. A single figure illustrates this dependence on space technology: 6 to 7 % of GDP of Western countries today depends on GPS satellite navigation.
 
The Chinese have been conducting experiments to interfere with our communications... ", Jack Beard of the Space Law Program at the University of Nebraska told AFP. He recalls that civilian and NASA satellites were attacked in 2007 and 2008 by pirates for several minutes. « The United States is vulnerable because it has fallen behind in the face of threats to our space systems. ".
But the dialogue with Beijing is almost non-existent, contrary to what existed with Moscow during the Cold War. « In the event of a space crisis with China, I'm not sure our military knows who to call... ", confides the expert.
 

Rivalry in the form of ancient tragedy?

Threats that come in a deleterious context of serious trade tensions between China and the United States. Tensions that reflect a new reality: China is emerging as the technological and economic power of the century. World export champion since 2010, its GDP - measured in purchasing power parity - has surpassed that of the United States. GAFA is no longer alone in the world. Other hyper-technological monsters were born in the Middle Kingdom: the Baidu, Alibaba or Tencent have nothing to envy their counterparts in Silicon Valley. In advanced fields such as Artificial Intelligence or giant calculators, China is carving out dealers for the Americans. An ambition that does not stop at the borders, however vast, of its territory. China is establishing itself in the world and its "Silk Roads" programme is one of the avatars of its planetary conquest.
 
Thucydides (circa 460-397 BC)
 
By landing on the Moon, China shows its power and its intention to compete with the Americans. How long will the Americans accept that their dominance will be challenged and jeopardized? A Harvard historian has attempted to answer this question by going back in time. Far back in time, 2500 years ago when the cities of Sparta and Athens competed for dominance in the ancient world. The philosopher Thucydides then established a theory: a dominant power, seeing its hegemony challenged by an ascending power, always ends up making war on it. The Harvard historian Graham Allison notes that this "...is the only way to ensure that a dominant power will always be able to win the war. Thucydides trap "has been repeated many times in history. Will the United States and China fall into this trap from the depths of antiquity? On July 21, 1969, the world watched with joy and wonder as man took his first steps on the moon. Today, does the Chinese robot on the dark side of the Moon augur the worst?
 
 
Source: AFP
 

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