China Tests ‘Lunar Palace’ as It Plans Moon Outpost

Two volunteers wave from inside the 'Lunar Palace 1,' a facility for conducting bio-regenerative life-support system experiments key to setting up a lunar base at Beijing University for Aeronautics and Astronautics (BUAA) in Beijing on May 10, 2017. (Image: Xinhua/Ju Huanzong)
Two volunteers wave from inside the 'Lunar Palace 1,' a facility for conducting bio-regenerative life-support system experiments key to setting up a lunar base at Beijing University for Aeronautics and Astronautics (BUAA) in Beijing on May 10, 2017. (Image: Xinhua/Ju Huanzong)

Eight volunteers will soon live in a sealed laboratory simulating a lunar-like environment in the Lunar Palace 1. The official Xinhua news agency reported that four postgraduate students from the capital’s astronautics research university Beihang will enter the 160 m² (1,720 ft²) cabin — dubbed the “Yuegong-1” or “Lunar Palace” — for an initial stay of 60 days.

They will then be relieved by another group of four, who will stay 200 days, before returning for an additional 105 days. The Chinese students will live in a sealed laboratory simulating a lunar-like environment in preparation for Beijing’s long-term goal of putting humans on the surface of the moon within the next two decades.

The students are testing if China’s Bioregenerative Life Support System (BLSS) can support future astronauts on the moon or Mars. The sealed lab is self-contained and will have no input from the outside world, Xinhua said. Human waste will be treated using a bio-fermentation process, and then be used to help with growing experimental crops and vegetables.

The “Lunar Palace” has two plant cultivation modules and a living cabin: 42 m² containing four bed cubicles, a common room, a bathroom, a waste-treatment room, and a room for raising animals. Liu Zhiheng, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences who helped design the lunar palace, told Xinhua:

According to state broadcaster CCTV, the cabin represents the “world’s most advanced closed-loop life-support technology so far.”

In 2014, a successful 105-day trial was conducted. The Lunar Palace is the world’s third bioregenerative life-support base, and is the first one developed in China. Liu Hong, chief designer, told CCTV that it is the only facility that involves animals and microorganisms, as well as plants and humans, calling it “the first of its kind.”

China is pouring billions into its military-run space program in an attempt to catch up to the U.S. and Europe, with hopes to have a crewed outpost by 2022. The European Space Agency (ESA) and China have also announced a possible partnership to build a base on the moon.

China has made it clear they want to join the ESA’s “Moon Village” plan, a plan to build a base on the moon starting in 2020. This base would be used to mine minerals and provide a refueling station for future Mars missions. ESA is also hoping it will attract paying space tourists.

Between 2026 and 2030, China will have invested $2.17 billion into its space program, which will be about three to four times more than the $695 million it spent from 2011 to 2016.

Beijing sees the programme as signifying the country’s progress, and an indicator of its rising global stature. However, China so far has largely replicated what the U.S. and Soviet Union pioneered decades ago.

China has also stated that it will use space for peaceful purposes like scientific research, but is also guaranteeing national security and prestige.

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