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  Bigelow: China and claiming land on the moon

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Author Topic:   Bigelow: China and claiming land on the moon
328KF
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Posts: 829
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posted 10-19-2011 03:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Robert Bigelow has just presented some interesting points on China's ambitions in space exploration, and the apparent short-sighted lack of concern on the part of Congress and the American public.
Chinese space program includes landing humans on moon and establishing a base there... in the 2020s...

Believes that China will not just do a footprints and moon rocks mission... no point in simply repeating Apollo... opportunity to create a sea change in global power that comes along very rarely...

Why not take the all important next step: ownernship ownership ownership

Believe they will make ownership claims wherever they land and can move about — that process will continue until they can claim the entire moon...

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 27328
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 10-19-2011 03:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Bigelow has been promoting this idea of his, that China will make a land grab on the moon, for the better part of the year, speaking about it, for example, at the FAA's commercial space conference in February and raising it during an interview he did in June with Forbes. The latter illustrates his motivation for such an idea — or at least the belief in such an idea — to catch on:
Bigelow argues the balance of risk and reward is changing with low-cost private rockets and his own inflatable space stations, which could be modified for surface use.

He's convinced there's an even better reason there will be demand for cheap, easily installed lunar bases. It's an idea he's never talked about publicly but is convinced is inevitable: a Chinese lunar land grab.

The Outer Space Treaty, a 1967 agreement that forms the basis of international space law, has been signed by every major power on Earth. It establishes that the resources of the moon should be shared and that while sovereign nations may explore or build bases, they cannot claim land as their own and must be open to a wide range of United Nations rules, regulations and inspections.

But a few paragraphs from the end of the treaty, in Article 16, Bigelow points out a detail he believes will radically change the future of space exploration. Any signatory to the treaty can send a letter of withdrawal and 12 months later will have been recognized to have withdrawn from the treaty. "Now, can you think of a particular country that is very impressive, that is extraordinary in its potential and its power and its capacity... and that has made no bones about going to the moon?"

If China pulls a land grab, Bigelow says, America's only option will be to withdraw from the treaty as well and send its own personnel to the moon to start claiming American territory. And they'll have to turn to commercial providers like Bigelow Aerospace to do it. "Without the private sector, this country is not capable of doing that or getting there in time. It will be too little, too late."

So at the least, Bigelow has a vested interest in convincing the powers that be that China is on the cusp of claiming ownership of the moon, a suggestion that seems to be uniquely sourced to him.

328KF
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posted 10-19-2011 10:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Robert, I did not know he had been beating this particular drum previously, but does his financial interest in inflatable structures for space/lunar use negate his argument?

It seems to me that Bigelow is trying to sound a wakeup call to the U.S. about the potential for the loss of leadership in space accomplishments rather than fear mongering just for the sake of drumming up business.

To suggest this assumes that inflatables would be the technology of choice once the decision was made to populate the moon. I take Bigelow as being much smarter than to stake his reputation on such an assumption.

Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 10-20-2011 05:48 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by 328KF:
...does his financial interest in inflatable structures for space/lunar use negate his argument?
No, not necessarily, but the demonstrated course to date of China's space program does not seem to support Bigelow's supposition.

In fact, given China's 'one-demonstration-and-we're-done' approach to mission goals, a 'flags and footprints' lunar program would appear to be much more in line with the nation's modus operandi.

In any case, China's lunar timeline keeps moving to right — they seem to be much more focused on establishing a manned space station by 2020 and landing a robotic lunar rover and sample return mission by 2017 — that suggesting now that they threaten U.S. leadership in space appears to be more wishful thinking/red herring than reality.

issman1
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Posts: 888
From: UK
Registered: Apr 2005

posted 10-20-2011 07:15 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for issman1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by 328KF:
It seems to me that Bigelow is trying to sound a wakeup call to the U.S. about the potential for the loss of leadership in space
Perhaps Bigelow should throw his hat into the ring for the Republican presidential nomination? If not, then back one of the contenders or call the incumbent president explaining how China wants "ownership" of the Moon.

Because such tired, fatuous claims have as much merit as Russia taking over the ISS.

SpaceAholic
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Posts: 3023
From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 10-20-2011 08:18 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Certainly any space program which is effectively directed by the "People's Liberation Army" (PLA) would have nothing but benign intentions - right?

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 27328
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 10-20-2011 10:19 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Bigelow's list of reasons for why China would want to claim the moon does not include military utilization as a justification.

Placing that aside, let's for the moment assume Bigelow is right and China does want to claim land on the moon. It might just be a good thing.

It wasn't ideal (from the perspective of the United States' citizenry) to have the Soviet Union place the first satellite in space, but it did establish the precedent for uncontested overflight of other nations.

Similarly, allowing China to claim land on the moon could open the door for the U.S. and other nations to follow without having to fight for the privilege. Simply allowing China to proceed would place any initial international pressure on China, and once that was settled, the U.S. could step in without scrutiny.

arjuna
unregistered
posted 10-20-2011 05:13 PM           Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A couple of thoughts.

China is still a long way away from being able to land humans on the moon. They've still yet to master rendezvous. This isn't to question their capacity to do either, just that it's not quite so easy or quick that the rest of the world is going to wake up with a Sputnik surprise one day. They are moving slowly and strategically (but they've definitely got momentum).

I recognize Scott's point about PLA involvement, which bears scrutiny. But even though NASA is civilian, all space technologies are dual-use, and so were ours. Once a human spaceflight program becomes a more distinct endeavor than just mastering rocket/LEO technologies, the dual-use factor becomes progressively less important (though never goes away completely). Human programs also become a LOT more expensive, and China is likely to run into the same sorts of competing budget/development priorities that other countries already have. They can't suspend the rules of political economy.

Finally, the economics of lunar resource exploitation are still unclear, and so if China goes to the moon I think it's a safe assumption (for now - this could change) that it's as a display of "soft power" (as was Apollo), i.e. to garner prestige and admiration for China's technological ability to accomplish that goal. But to then go and claim ownership of lunar territory would immediately destroy any good will that the landing engendered. It would make little sense.

I don't assume that China (or the Russians or the Americans or anyone else for that matter) are completely altruistic in all their endeavors, but assuming they are absolutely definitely up to no good is, at this point, paranoia.

That said, there's a fine line between paranoia and a healthy sense of competition. I'm all for the latter, so I think Bigelow's call to action is not completely illegitimate.

SkyMan1958
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Posts: 355
From: CA.
Registered: Jan 2011

posted 10-20-2011 07:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SkyMan1958   Click Here to Email SkyMan1958     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If China were to go down this route it'd probably show up first in Antarctica, given that the Antarctic is MUCH closer than the Moon, and has somewhat the same treaty set-up as Outer Space.

While I can certainly see China trying to get some perks for any potential commercial activities on the Moon (given how heavily involved the PLA is in the economy), I just don't see them claiming the Moon in any major way. Personally I think Bigelow is mainly trying to get more taxpayer money for his project.

Max Q
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Posts: 381
From: Whyalla South Australia
Registered: Mar 2007

posted 10-21-2011 05:56 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Max Q   Click Here to Email Max Q     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I find myself wondering what if anything could be done about it if China did annex the Moon. Would it really come to blows? What could any nation state do about it? Could the world afford the race to regain the high ground as they did in the 1960's?

arjuna
unregistered
posted 10-21-2011 06:30 AM           Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Iron Sky is just a movie.

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