The past few years have seen a flurry of activity related to space, with many nations rushing to expand their domestic space industries. The curtain has been lifted on a new era of space exploration, reminiscent of the great age of sea navigation, when intrepid explorers set off on long sea voyages to explore uncharted corners of the globe.
To advance Taiwan’s activities in space and promote development of domestic space-related industries, the Cabinet on Thursday passed the first reading of a space development bill. The bill is to be passed to the Legislative Yuan to be deliberated on during the current legislative session. If passed, it would, among other things, provide a legal foundation for the establishment of a new national space center and enhanced cooperation and coordination with international space-related agencies.
The bill would provide an impetus to high added-value space technology industrial applications and push forward related industrial development and international integration. The trajectory of Taiwan’s space industry and a series of “Centennial Challenges” announced by NASA last year might help the nation’s technology manufacturers gain an advantage in a highly competitive industry.
With satellite and rocket technology reaching maturity, the new space race is coalescing around lunar missions, long-duration crewed space flights and even colonization — the Holy Grail of each spacefaring nation’s astronomical ambitions.
On Feb. 9, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a national 10-year space plan. Perhaps the plan’s most important objective is to launch a domestically produced hybrid energy rocket by the end of 2023. This would make Turkey the sixth country or allied bloc — after the US, Russia, China, India and the EU — with a lunar mission strategy.
Meanwhile, NASA’s Centennial Challenges program clearly demonstrates the US’ aspiration to conquer the frontiers of the new space race: long-duration space flight and colonization.
NASA is preparing for a return to the moon in 2024, although the lunar mission would be radically different from the Apollo missions carried out by Neil Armstrong and other astronauts in 1969, which barely scratched the surface of lunar exploration.
This time, NASA’s Artemis program plans to leave human astronauts on the moon. Faced with such a daunting task, the space agency’s Centennial Challenges program offers prizes for solving specific knotty problems.
The “Lunar Delivery Challenge” is a competition to come up with solutions for unloading payloads on the lunar surface; the “Watts on the Moon Challenge” is concerned with power generation on the moon; and the “Break the Ice Lunar Challenge” aims to find solutions for exploiting the moon’s natural resources.
All of these challenges share a common goal: finding ways to allow humans to live on the moon for extended periods.
Another challenge facing the Artemis program is food. Last month, NASA launched the “Deep Space Food Challenge,” an international competition launched by NASA and the Canadian Space Agency to search for novel food production technologies or systems able to sustain a crew of four astronauts for a three-year round-trip mission with no resupplies.
The food must also be palatable, nutritious and similar to the standard found on Earth, so that it would be suitable for use by future “astro-tourists.”
The open nature of NASA’s Centennial Challenges competitions and the low barriers to entry could assist Taiwan in developing high added-value space technology industrial applications and enhance the international integration of its space-related industries.
The competitions also provide a great opportunity for Taiwan’s civil servants, the future national space center and any manufacturers that wish to orientate themselves toward a commanding position in the space industry.
Steven Wu is a researcher and manager in the fields of biotechnology and medicine.
Translated by Edward Jones
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