Chinese Scientists Build 'Artificial Moon' to Test Lunar Exploration Equipment on Earth

Developing an environment like the Moon despite Earth’s higher gravitational pull is a significant feat.

Chinese Scientists Build 'Artificial Moon' to Test Lunar Exploration Equipment on Earth

Photo Credit: NASA

NASA plans to take humans back to the Moon soon

Highlights
  • The Chinese facility is said to replicate lunar low-gravity environments
  • The simulator will be filled with rocks and dust
  • The simulator is about two feet in diameter

The race for space exploration is heating up with major powers focussing on having a base on the Moon, to help operate beyond the International Space Station (ISS). As the US is realigning its strategy to return humanity to the Moon, China is not far behind. Its scientists have created an “artificial moon” on Earth to test technology and equipment in low gravity. Located in the eastern Jiangsu province, the facility is expected to provide vital research for China's lunar missions. It is likely to be launched soon, though no date has been finalised.

Moon has a gravitational pull that is one-sixth of the Earth. However, developing that environment here, despite Earth's higher pull, is significant and could boost lunar exploration multi-fold.  American space agency NASA currently trains its astronauts in managing themselves in microgravity in parabolic flights.

The Chinese facility is said to replicate low-gravity environments for a very long duration. This would make Chinese astronauts less dependent on parabolic flights to train themselves or low gravity environments to test new rovers and technologies. “While low gravity can be achieved in an aircraft or a drop tower, it is momentary,” lead scientist Li Ruilin, from the China University of Mining and Technology, told the South China Morning Post. Li said the simulator they are building can provide low gravity for “as long as you want.”

The simulator will be filled with rocks and dust to create an environment similar to the lunar surface. There's one problem with the Chinese “moon”: its size. The simulator is about two feet in diameter, so there's not much room for a manoeuvre. This facility can only be used to test equipment and not for astronaut training.

Scientists working on the project say their model is inspired by a 1997 experiment by Andre Geim. The Russian-born physicist used magnets to levitate a frog, showing that if a diamagnetic object is placed under a strong magnetic field, its repulsion can balance gravity.


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Further reading: China, Moon, CNSA, Artificial Moon
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