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China’s Space Technology Pushes the Boundaries of Science

Indeed, space is the next frontier.  Mindful of all that, China plans to conduct a number of frontier scientific experiments on its Tiangong space station using the two laboratory modules, Wentian and Mengtian. Their launch is, scheduled this year, according to the Technology and Engineering Center for Space Utilisation (CSU) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

That certainly does a reversal of roles. Science, for the longest time, is the basis of technology. It refers to the process of gaining new knowledge in a methodical way by conducting a series of experiments. Technology, on the other hand, is applying acquired scientific knowledge in day-to-day practical applications. Now, technology’s advance is the one pushing the boundaries of science.

Already, the Chinese space team has prioritised a long list of things to find out once airborne. Food and its production are central to these experiments. The reason is simple. The team will be exploring how humans can survive in space for long periods. These experiments include:

  • raising fish in space
  • growing vegetables in space
  • setting up the most precise clocks in space
  • developing new materials
  • studying physical laws

The CSU has confirmed such scientific exploration. They disclosed that the scientific experiment facilities to be installed in the two lab modules are currently under development and will be launched into orbit on schedule to support large-scale and multidisciplinary scientific research.

For one, Chinese scientists are also planning to establish the world’s first space-based cold atomic clock system in the Mengtian lab module, consisting of a hydrogen clock, a rubidium clock and an optical clock.

If successful, the cold atomic clocks will form the most precise time and frequency system in space, which should not lose one second in hundreds of millions of years.

– Zhang Wei, Director, the Utilisation Development Center, Center for Space Utilisation

The world’s first-ever cold atomic clock that operates in space was made by Chinese scientists. It was launched with the Tiangong-2 space lab in 2016 and has a margin of error of less than one second in 30 million years.

To date, the needed setup for these experiments is being prepared. The scientific work will make use of experiment racks that can hold a variety of technical hardware and materials, allowing astronauts to upgrade and replace the facilities over time.

In fact, testing work has already begun. The experiment racks have been installed in the Tianhe core module, which was launched last year. Moreover, these will be used for container-free material science and high microgravity experiments, as detailed by Zhang Wei, the Director of the Utilisation Development Center of CSU.

More than 10 life-science experiments on plants, animals and microbial cells will be carried out in the Wentian lab module, including a small closed ecosystem composed of small fish, microorganisms and algae, according to Zhang. China’s long-term scientific trust is in four areas:

  • space life sciences and human research
  • microgravity physical science
  • space astronomy and earth science
  • new space technologies and applications

To prepare the taikonauts (Chinese astronauts), China is also building a ground experiment base in Huairou Science City in the northeastern suburbs of Beijing to provide experimental conditions similar to those of the space station.

All the scientific endeavour has been made possible thanks to its digital transformation. Its ability to use information and communication has been central to its success. Its foray into digital technology has been anything but slow. Just this year, China let roll its fifth state-backed 5G operator that will soon be servicing the population as reported on OpenGov Asia.


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