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商业 - 航空和运输

中国醉心于太空开发的4大原因

Vikram Mansharamani 2016年04月20日

“航天实力的应用,能够促进中国军队的远程打击能力、精确制导能力和信息连通能力,进一步促进各兵种的有效融合。”该报告还声称,中国领导人认为“太空战是不可避免的”,因此中国必须主宰太空。

国际空间站的建造成本高达1500多亿美元,堪称有史以来最昂贵的人造物体。其造价是中国三峡大坝、波士顿“大开挖”工程和英法海底隧道合计成本的两倍多。不过,据CNN报道,到2020年代初期,国际空间站的资金来源可能就将耗尽。

就在国际空间站的资金即将告罄之际,中国却有望在2020年代初期完成自己的空间站建设。届时,这一亚洲强国将成为全球唯一一个拥有在轨空间实验室的国家。由于美国国会禁止美国宇航局与中国航天系统开展任何双边合作,我们目前尚不清楚美国宇航员的身影到时能否出现在中国空间站上。

轨道空间站仅仅是中国雄心勃勃的地外探索计划的一部分。如今,航天战略已经成为中国地缘政治战略中的重要一环。从最近的一系列动作可以看出,中国的航天工程是动真格的。

首先,中国的航天工程在过去几年中已经取得了大量成果。2013年,继美国和苏联之后,中国成为第三个让航空器在月球表面成功软着陆的国家。2014年,中国成功发射并回收了一枚绕月探测器,这也是同类任务自上世纪70年代以来的首次成功。

然而,中国还有更宏大的计划。比如,中国将在2018年向月球背面发射探测器——月球背面的奇特地貌大部分还未被探索过。它也将成为人类历史上首颗在月球背面着陆的探测器。此外,中国还计划带回月球表面的土壤样品,并派遣宇航员登陆月球表面。除月球以外,中国也有雄心勃勃的火星探索计划。

中国到底想做什么?为什么要持续加大对航天领域的投入?为什么对探月工程如此感兴趣?我认为主要有以下几个原因。

首先,在中国看来,太空是一项可能改变能源领域游戏规则的资源,特别是月球。月球拥有大量的氦3元素,这种轻质的非放射性核聚变原料在地球上几乎不存在,而月球表面没有大气层,又被含有氦3元素的太阳风冲刷了几十亿年,它的氦3储量极为可观。据一些专家估算,月球表面的氦3储量至少在110万吨以上,足以满足人类文明1万年的能源需求。

作为全球能源需求增长最快的国家之一,中国充分认识到,这种来自另一个星球的能源将成为一笔重大的战略资产。有趣的是,美国硅谷也同样觊觎月球的氦3资源。比如,谷歌的XPRIZE探月大奖就拿出3000万美元奖金,鼓励与探月有关的科研项目。

中国推动太空探索的另一个目的是鼓励科技研发。正如在苏联发射了第一颗人造卫星之后,美国就随之加大了对基础科学和应用科学的研究投入一样,中国在探月工程上的科研投入,同样也有一部分会转化为有益于现实生活的实用成果。中国探月工程首席科学家就曾表示,航天工程对于信息技术和材料科学的“溢出效应”,也是推动中国航天工程的一个重要动机。

同时,中国也敏锐地认识到了太空对于军事的重要性。美国国会2015年的一份报告指出,“航天实力的应用,能够促进中国军队的远程打击能力、精确制导能力和信息连通能力,进一步促进各兵种的有效融合。”该报告还声称,中国领导人认为“太空战是不可避免的”,因此中国必须主宰太空。值得注意的是,中国最近还进行了反卫星武器测试。

最后,中国在航天领域的成功,无疑将提振民族自豪感,支撑其高涨的民族主义情绪,有利于政府进行爱国宣传,对国内起到凝聚人心的作用。事实上,中央军委装备发展部副部长张育林中将就曾用“中华民族的伟大复兴”来形容航天战略的重要意义。

从上万亿美元布局的“一带一路”,到“南海造岛”,中国在地缘政治领域的频频发力备受瞩目。但我们同样不能忽视中国正在外层空间展开的地缘政治角力。与近在眼前的问题一样,忽视对外太空的开发也有可能给美国带来不利的后果。(财富中文网)

本文作者Vikram Mansharamani 是耶鲁大学伦理、政治与经济学专业讲师。著有《经济兴衰学:聚焦金融泡沫破裂前》(BOOMBUSTOLOGY: Spotting Financial Bubbles Before They Burst)一书。

译者:朴成奎

审校:任文科

At a cost of more than $150 billion, the International Space Station (ISS) is the most expensive object ever built. This price tag is more than double thecombined costs of China’s Three Gorges Dam, Boston’s Big Dig, and theChunnel. But as noted by CNN, funding for the ISS may run out in the early 2020s.

That happens to be around the same time that the Chinese are expected to complete their own space station, potentially leaving the Asian power with the sole operating lab in the heavens. And given thatCongress banned NASA from working bilaterally with anyone from the Chinese space program, it’s unclear if American astronauts will be welcome.

The Chinese space station is merely one part of the Middle Kingdom’s extraterrestrial ambitions. Tinkering in the heavens has emerged as an important plank of its geopolitical strategy. And if recent history is any guide, the Chinese are serious about their plans in space.

To begin, their program has already accomplished a great deal over the past few years. In 2013, China became the third nation—after the United States and the Soviet Union—to soft-land a spacecraft on the moon. In 2014, the country also sent a probearound the moon and back, the first such mission since the 1970s.

But China has even grander plans. These include a 2018 mission to send the first probe in history to land on the “dark side” of the moon, whose extraordinary geology is largely unexplored. Other plans aim to bring back lunar samples as well as to land humans on the surface of the moon. The country has Martian ambitions as well.

What are the Chinese doing? Why the increased focus on space and specifically the moon? I see several reasons.

First, China views space as a potentially game-changing source of energy security. Specifically, the moon has abundant supplies of helium-3, a light and non-radioactive fusion fuel that is virtually non-existent here on Earth. Because it lacks an atmosphere and has been bombarded by solar winds containing helium-3 for billions of years, the moon has massive volumes of the isotope. Some estimates suggest there are at least 1.1 million metric tons of helium-3 on the lunar surface, enough to power human energy needs for up to 10,000 years.

With one of the fastest-growing appetites for energy on the planet, the Chinese are highly aware that securing access to this other-wordly fuel would be a hugestrategic advantage. Interestingly, Silicon Valley is also vying for the moon’s helium-3, spurred in part by the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE.

China is also pushing into the heavens to encourage technological developments. Just as America’s response to Sputnik fueled basic research and applied science, so might China channel its out-of-this-world ambitions into useful developments here on Earth. In fact, the chief scientist of China’s lunar exploration program cited the spillover benefits expected in information technology and materials science as a key motivator of the program.

The Chinese are also keenly aware of the military significance of space. A 2015 US congressionalreport explained how “for China’s military, the use of space power can facilitate long-range strikes, guide munitions with precision, improve connectivity, and lead to greater jointness across its armed forces.” The document described a Chinese leadership that thinks that “space warfare is inevitable” and that China must dominate it. It’s worth noting China’s recent testing of anti-satellite weapons.

Finally, there is no question that Chinese success in space will be a source of pride and support risingnationalism. It will give China bragging rights and have a unifying influence on the country. In fact, Lieutenant General Zhang Yulindiscussed his space ambitions in terms of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

As we focus on China’s terrestrial power plays, from its trillion dollar Silk Road to its construction ofartificial islands in the South China Sea, we must also watch the emerging geopolitics (“exopolitics”?) of outer space. Dismissing distant developments overhead may prove as detrimental, if not more so, than ignoring those in front of our noses.

Vikram Mansharamani is a Lecturer at Yale University in the Program on Ethics, Politics, & Economics. He is the author of BOOMBUSTOLOGY: Spotting Financial Bubbles Before They Burst (Wiley, 2011). Visit his website for more information or to subscribe to his mailing list. He can also be followed onTwitter or by liking hisPage on Facebook.

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