The China National Natural Science Foundation considers such a station “of strategic importance for the future use of resources from space, exploration of the universe and long-range orbital.”
The foundation, which is directly controlled by the Ministry of Science and Technology, wants scientists to develop ways to make such a station as light as possible, thus reducing the amount of material that has to be transported into orbit. This preliminary study alone will cost around 2 million euros.
The cost of building such a station would be astronomical in the literal sense of the word. Professor Mason Beck, a former engineer at NASA, this is the only real problem with the realization of this project. Beck: “Building has its challenges, of course, but it’s primarily related to the scale at which it happens.” However, putting all the material into orbit costs an incredible amount of money.
In comparison, the International Space Station (ISS) is about 100 meters long and cost around 100 billion euros to build. The cost of building a plant ten times this size would be staggering.
The usual method is to build parts on Earth and connect them together in space, but using 3D printers can speed up that process, Beck says. Then only raw materials should be sent.
China already has a space station under construction, but this Tiangong station is about the same size as the International Space Station. Chinese astronauts are currently working in orbit from that station’s Tianhe nuclear unit.