China plans to drill the moon for minerals, say space chiefs
China will begin drilling on the moon in search of critical minerals within our lifetimes, the head of UK Space Command has said.
In The Times joint interview with his American counterpart, Air Vice-Marshal Paul Godfrey warned about the threat posed by China and Russia beyond the stratosphere.
Godfrey said that “billions” were being invested by China and Russia to explore space and create cosmic weapons. Beijing has technology that can “grab” and move satellites while Moscow has anti-satellite missiles able to hit targets orbiting at 17,500 miles per hour, he said.
He added that Beijing was looking at mining the moon after a lunar test mission in 2020 discovered a new phosphate mineral named Changesite-(Y) that could be used as fuel for nuclear fusion.
“China has released a white paper where they’re looking at critical minerals on the moon,” he said. “They’ve returned samples from the moon already. They are just looking to go further with that. Asteroid mining will be a thing in our lifetime.”
General James Dickinson, the head of US Space Command, said that the Pentagon remained confident in its capabilities amid fears that the US was falling behind China in the space race.
In 2021, Beijing tested a hypersonic missile that circumnavigated the globe through low-orbit space before missing its target by 24 miles. The nuclear-capable missile may be able to bypass US air defence systems, experts believe.
“We do have great technologies in the US,” Dickinson said. “Of course we’ve seen the demonstration of hypersonic weapons by other countries, in particular China and Russia. That is an area we continue to look at in terms of how we would mitigate that type of threat.”
Russia demonstrated its own formidable weapons two years ago when it used an anti-ballistic missile system designed to shield Moscow from nuclear attack to destroy a defunct Soviet satellite known as Cosmos 1408. The explosion created a debris field that led astronauts on the International Space Station to seek shelter and still causes problems for commercial companies today.
“It absolutely added to the congestion of the orbit. There are roughly 1,500 pieces of debris we continue to track,” Dickinson said.
China, India, Russia and the United States all have anti-satellite missiles, but Western countries have called for a ban on future tests because of the danger posed by the debris in “congested” space.
Dickinson likened the effect to a scene in the film Gravity where Sandra Bullock and George Clooney become trapped in space after their shuttle is damaged by a cloud of Russian debris.
“If you watch that movie, he’s out on the end of that string and then they fly through a debris field and it shreds the solar panels. You wouldn’t see that. It would be faster than that,” Dickinson said.
Godfrey added: “It’s a bit like maritime pollution. We don’t want to pollute the seas and it’s the same with space. There is an understanding that people need to work together whether it’s debris in space or microplastics in the sea.”