Former CIA Officer Talks About US-China Space Wars Over Solar Power, Fusion Power And Mining

Beijing is moving toward possible revolutions in the areas of extracting energy in space and mining space materials and could outrun the United States, former CIA space analyst Tim Chrisman said in an interview.

While Chrisman’s past warnings related to space satellite wars, which could also have serious negative implications for American allies like Israel and generate new intelligence benefits for Chinese allies like Iran, the last time he raised the alarm is of a different character.

As much as the public may not focus on space satellite wars, it is not difficult to absorb the stakes as most of the public know that they already benefit from satellites throughout their daily lives, even if they don’t. they fully understand the details.

In contrast, upcoming areas of potential transfer of solar energy and perhaps even fusion-based energy, as well as unique space materials for mining from space, are completely off the radar of the general public.

At the same time, these issues can be much more transformative in terms of competition between nations and how humanity’s future is framed.

A man stands near a Chinese national flag flying on a cruise ship on the Yalu River that separates North Korea and China, in Dandong, Liaoning province, China, on April 20, 2021 (credit: REUTERS / TINGSHU WANG) .

Chrisman also served in Army Intelligence and currently serves as a co-founder of the Foundation for the Future, a science education and advocacy foundation dedicated to creating an infrastructure for living and working in space.

On the one hand, Chrisman says that China has a head start because its military and economic components are practically inseparable.

The United States is more challenged to bring together and unite different aspects of national power to pursue a single long-term challenging mission.

Noting how China has used intellectual property theft and its ability to focus all of its national power on missions of this kind in other areas of technology to catch and pass the US (in many areas), he said that Beijing I could use the same approach in space. more dangerous.

“Outer space contains virtually unlimited amounts of energy and raw materials, from helium-3 fuel on the Moon for clean fusion reactors to heavy metals and volatile gases from asteroids, which can be collected for use on Earth. and in space. China will almost certainly use whatever recourse it can acquire to the detriment of adversaries, competitors and bystanders alike, ”said the former CIA analyst.

An unknown race that has already begun, whether the public knows it or not, is who will be the first to mine Helium-3 in space in significant quantities to try to develop clean fusion reactors.

“Getting there first may be more like launching the first satellite, like the space races of Russia and the United States,” he said, noting, “It would be a great political and diplomatic victory. Much depends on how it can be exploited on the back end, whether it can be used quickly for power or reliably brought back to Earth en masse. It opens up possibilities for dramatic changes, ”he said.

Helium-3 is considered an isotope that could provide safer nuclear energy (than is currently available) through a fusion reactor, as it is not radioactive and would not produce hazardous waste products.

Solar System Resources has signed a contract to provide 500 kilograms of helium-3 mined from the Moon to the US Nuclear Corporation in the period 2028-2032.

Unlike Earth, which is protected by its magnetic field, the Moon has been bombarded with large amounts of Helium-3 by solar winds.

That makes helium 3 100 times more abundant on the Moon than it is on Earth.

Fusion reactor technology itself has run into various hurdles over a period of decades, but some argue that a serious supply of Helium-3 could be the necessary game changer.

He added: “An even bigger potential game changer could be space-based solar power. This has more short-term potential, and even if it could be a less significant diplomatic victory, it would be much more of a political blow to the stomach for the population of either country. It would not be just signals from space, but wireless power available 24/7.

“It would be a solar power plant, a solar farm of solar panels placed in space. Instead of [limited] Cycle day and night on the ground, you have constant sunlight that delivers energy through a microwave or laser link to the ground. “

The California Institute of Technology, backed by more than $ 100 million in private funding, expects to conduct a small-scale solar array test as early as 2023.

Chrisman recognized that due to distance and the need to transfer energy from space to Earth, there would be some energy loss depending on how strong the signal is and the wavelength, with an estimated loss of 10-30% of power at some wavelengths, but greater loss at other wavelengths.

But even with these losses, “we would be talking about mega- or gigawatt-scale solar plants in orbit, which apart from wear and tear, do not require refueling or other standard costs associated with transporting energy over long distances.”

Chrisman then said that even if the US has superior technology now, China is on track to launch a new megawatt-scale space solar power station around 2030 with key tests to take place in 2022.

“The United States does not have the same level of fidelity in what we are planning commercially or otherwise,” he said.

Explaining why he is so concerned whether the US might be ahead in certain respects at this specific time, he said the US is moving slowly, but China has made space expansion a truly committed national mission and has put significant government funding behind it. .

Regarding the Biden administration and his first famous comment in January dismissing a question about the United States Space Force, he said: “In general, there seems to be a perception within the administration that space is [moderately] useful, a tool they can use to advance their priorities, such as combating climate change and in the area of ​​national security. But there is a gap in the perception of the potential for job creation. “

Taking an apolitical stance, he added: “This is not just about the Biden administration. It is in the entire political apparatus; you almost have the feeling that [commercial potential and job creation in space] it’s 100 years away, ”while the former CIA analyst argued that there are only a few years to go, or less than a decade.

Regarding other useful materials and gases, he said: “Some may be available on the Moon, but asteroids are where it is at its highest concentration. If rare metals or some other type of metal or ice can be used to turn them into building materials, it is found much more densely in asteroids. $ 20 trillion worth of materials can be in a single asteroid. “

Chrisman relies on a 2012 book Mining the Sky, which looks at asteroid 3554 Amun, discovered in 1986. The fact that nothing has happened in nine years shows how complex the idea is in real life, but the upside potential is. undeniable.

Regarding the concrete next steps, he said: “The Moon will definitely be the first place from which any resource will be extracted. Helium3, ice [which can be used for water, oxygen and rocket fuel] and minerals “.

Even if asteroids have greater long-term potential, he admitted additional difficulties, including the fact that “asteroids are smaller, they are a harder target to hit.” [land on], often rotate, may not be spherical in shape and [space programs] you may not be able to map what the surface looks like before a launch. It can be difficult to land while ensuring that the spacecraft, any vehicle and astronauts are safe. “

He said the plan was to test and validate the mining and development of certain materials from the Moon and then search for the same materials from asteroids around three to five years later.

Furthermore, he said he was optimistic that by 2024-2026 some new technologies and the use of some new materials would be validated on the Moon. This would include some humans who reside on the Moon for much longer or even semi-permanent periods.

This would come before asteroids because those expedition missions would also be much more expensive. But he said mining could start on asteroids, using robots that could better cope with gravity and limited space to operate challenges, as early as the early 2030s.

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