Not content with ambitious plans to dominate space exploration over the coming decades, China is also looking to master the ocean with the development of a deep-sea station which could be its first step towards large-scale underwater mining.
Plans for the nuclear powered mobile deep-sea station were unveiled earlier this year by China Ship Scientific Research Centre – the state-owned venture whose Jiaolong manned submersible recently reached depths of over 7,000 metres – according to South China Morning Post.
The craft would have dimensions of 60.2m x 15.8m x 9.7m, weigh about 2,600 tonnes, and have enough room for 33 crew members.
It would have propellers to move submarine-like underwater and several ports to allow smaller craft to dock with it, the report said.
On that note, a smaller prototype which could carry 12 crew on an 18-day expedition is currently in production, with an expected delivery date of 2015.
While China’s plans in space appear to revolve heavily around military strategy, its deep sea efforts have more to do with the country finding an answer to its current energy problems.
Drilling for oil and mining copper and other natural resources both appear to be high on the list of China’s deep-sea priorities, although technological limitations may hold back advances in the project for some time, the report claims.
When China wants something it usually succeeds in the end, however, so it would not be out of the question to see the launch of a full-sized deep-sea station by 2030, according to SCMP.
China plans nuclear deep-sea mining base
A Chinese company is set to build a nuclear-powered mobile deep-sea station in the western Pacific, according to local reports.
The China Ship Scientific Research Centre’s proposed station — which will have huge propellers to enable free movement in the ocean depths — will be manned by 33 crew for up to two months at a time and powered by a nuclear reactor.
Its main goal, according to reports in the South China Sea Post, will be to mine for precious metals. The nation, which recently announced it is stockpiling rare earth elements amid fears of shortages, would use the facilities to hunt mainly for copper, lead, zinc, silver, gold and oil.
Underwater mining is typically a costly affair, full of potential dangers and problems. Canadian-owned Nautilus Minerals Inc was the first commercial copper-gold mining venture to be granted permission to explore the Bismarck Sea floor surrounding Papua New Guinea, but has already run into problems with environmentalists warning the mining could destroy marine life and cause devastating oil spills. China’s Tongling Non-ferrous Metals Group had signed up as the project’s very first customer in April 2012, but a dispute with Papua New Guinea also stands to halt the mining project’s 2013 launch completely
The Chinese company appears to be wary of these issues, and is therefore treading carefully, with plans for the bold venture slated for a more reasonable 2030 launch — according to experts the South China Sea Post spoke to — and a smaller 12-crew prototype capable of 18-day dives set to launch by 2015. The larger 60-metre-long craft will weigh in at 2,600 tonnes.
In preparation, the China Ship Scientific Research Centre has been engaging in test dives of manned vehicles — its Jiaolong model reached a record-breaking 7,020 metres at the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean on the same day that China’s Shenzhou-9 spacecraft docked at the Tiangong 1 space station.
Reports suggest that the project is being funded by the state’s 863 Program, a fund specifically for the development of innovative technologies, which has links with the military. Nevertheless, mining for oil and copper seem to be the most likely priorities on the agenda, with crew on the station able to spend two months at a time living and mining underwater.
Shanghai is hosting the 41st Underwater Mining Institute conference October 2012, and further details could potentially be revealed then. In the meantime, a look at the China Ship Scientific Research Centre’s website reveals fields of interest that range from manned submersibles such as the Jiaolong vessel to atmospheric one-man diving suits and autonomous underwater robots — the latter would be exponentially beneficial in aiding aquanauts during danger-filled underwater mining missions.
The centre also appears to be keen on waterslides. Definitely one to watch.
By Liat Clark WIRE. UK. CO