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China is Winning the Space Race

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#1 Crisp

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Posted 06 August 2013 - 17:44

China is Winning the Space Race
 

Don't laugh. In less than a decade, Beijing will likely be the world's most important player in outer space.

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On June 11, in the flat and featureless Gobi Desert, China took a giant leap for mankind -- or at least a symbolic step toward space dominance -- when it sent three astronauts into space for 15 days. With the past as a guide, both that launch and the 2010 launch of the Chang'e 2 unmanned lunar orbiter are technologically unimpressive. Shift the focus to the present and they are merely unsettling. But look to the future, and they are unmistakable warning signs that China may surpass the United States and Russia to become the world's preeminent spacefaring power.

 

Yes, launching a three-seat space capsule and docking it with a temporary space station is straight out of the bell-bottom jeans and wide-collar era: it merely replicates what Americans achieved in 1973 with their Skylab 2 mission. With only one main chamber, the diminutive Tiangong 1 space station is far less impressive and barely one-tenth the size of Skylab, not to mention the even larger, elaborately segmented structure of modules, docking ports, and solar arrays that make up the International Space Station (ISS), the largest artificial object in Earth orbit.

 

Why worry that the Chinese are exploiting 40-year-old technology to send a few men and women into space? Won't it take them decades to catch up? Won't they be daunted by the same engineering and medical scientific barriers that have stalled their predecessors in low Earth orbit, like damage to spacecraft from micrometeorite impacts, and damage to human bodies from exposure to cosmic radiation and weightlessness? And isn't the space race dead anyway?

 

Not necessarily. The Chinese have not only matched many of the achievements of the Americans and Russians in space -- and in far less time than it took their predecessors to reach the same milestones -- they did so while avoiding their biggest mistakes. For example, rather than investing in customized, expensive space shuttles like both Washington and Moscow banked on, the Chinese are using reliable, mass-producible spacecraft, like the Soyuz capsule. 

 

And the Chinese space program enjoys some important advantages over its U.S. rival.  As the recent surge in missions attests, the Chinese space program likely enjoys generous and stable government funding -- though the exact amount is unknown. (Meanwhile, NASA's budget as a percent of the federal budget has fallen from 4.41 percent in 1966 to 0.48 percent in 2012.) And the Chinese space program has the support of a unified Chinese leadership: China's President Xi Jinping won't be shutting down the Shenzhou missions to diminish the legacy of his predecessors, as President Richard Nixon did by ending manned lunar exploration.

 

The United States may have given up on the space dream, but it still burns brightly in the Chinese psyche. Among the most important -- if unquantifiable -- resources Beijing possesses is an extraordinary sense of historical grievance. Chinese nationalists are conscious of almost two centuries of national humiliation at the hands of other great powers, attributable to Chinese military technological backwardness. Anxiety about technology transfers prompted the Pentagon to reject Chinese participation in the ISS, a decision that has drawn little objection from the other 14 participating countries -- and of which some Chinese nationalists are keenly aware. The United States and its allies are even encircling China in orbital space, or so the thinking goes.

 

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#2 Astra.Xtreme

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Posted 06 August 2013 - 17:54

How exactly has the US given up the space dream?

 

We just landed another rover on Mars, and we still have a manned mission to Mars on the itinerary: http://www.nasa.gov/...ture/index.html

 

This along with a long list of other missions that are going on as we speak:  http://www.nasa.gov/missions/current/

And those are just the NASA missions.  The numerous private companies that recently started up are booming.

 

They're decades behind the other space powers, and until they land something on another planet, nobody is going to care what they do.



#3 OP Crisp

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Posted 06 August 2013 - 17:59

They're decades behind the other space powers, and until they land something on another planet, nobody is going to care what they do.

 

I think 3D printing will play a massive part in the future of Space exploration.



#4 .Neo

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Posted 06 August 2013 - 18:01

They're decades behind the other space powers, and until they land something on another planet, nobody is going to care what they do.

I'm sure a lot of people will care if China puts nukes in orbit, manages to exploit a meteor's natural resources in a commercially viable manner or have a permanently manned base on the moon. Putting a man on Mars will make a spectacular news item but that novelty will fade fast.



#5 +LightEco

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Posted 06 August 2013 - 18:02

"Space Race" is a term that referred to the competition between the USSR and the US to be the first to get to the moon. So I fail to see how China is winning a race that's already over.



#6 Astra.Xtreme

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Posted 06 August 2013 - 18:02

I'm sure a lot of people will care if they put nukes in orbit.

China doesn't really have any reason to.  If North Korea was able to, they might, but we know they don't have that capability.



#7 Growled

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Posted 06 August 2013 - 18:09

"Space Race" is a term that referred to the competition between the USSR and the US to be the first to get to the moon. So I fail to see how China is winning a race that's already over.

I hear ya. It makes no sense to me.



#8 DocM

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Posted 06 August 2013 - 18:26

I'm sure a lot of people will care if China puts nukes in orbit, manages to exploit a meteor's natural resources in a commercially viable manner or have a permanently manned base on the moon. Putting a man on Mars will make a spectacular news item but that novelty will fade fast.

1) China is a primary signatory of the Outer Space Treaty which bans nuclear weapons or any other weapon of mass destruction in space. 102 nations have signed it so far.

2) China does not have a heavy class launcher which would allow it to mount major beyond Earth orbit (BEO) missions, manned or otherwise. At present they can orbit about 11-12 metric tons. This is half of what a Delta-IV can orbit, 50% less than a maxed out Falcon 9 or Atlas V, and less than 25% of a Falcon Heavy's payload. They have a lot of work to do.

3) China's Shenzhou manned spacecraft has capabilities similar to Soyuz, which it is based on, but operationally its development is closer to the 1960's US Gemini program. This design is dated, too small for extended BEO missions, and even Russia is moving from the Soyuz layout to a capsule design more like the US's Orion, Dragon, or CST-100 which can survive BEO re-entries. China will have to as well.

4) a Chinese Mars mission would require a super-heavy rocket (100-150 metric tons to orbit) and other technologies they have not demonstrated. They have a lumar ambition, but it's just an ambition so far.

#9 Xerino

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Posted 07 August 2013 - 18:34

The USA didnt give up on the space dream, we just think its cheaper to hitch a ride up with the russians rather than keep letting our shuttles blow up again and again... 2 out of the original 7 still exist lol



#10 Astra.Xtreme

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Posted 07 August 2013 - 18:42

The USA didnt give up on the space dream, we just think its cheaper to hitch a ride up with the russians rather than keep letting our shuttles blow up again and again... 2 out of the original 7 still exist lol

Wait what?  There was 5 shuttles and 2 of them failed.  Yeah that's not a good track record, but they were a pretty bad and inefficient design and they were used well past the designed life span.



#11 vetneufuse

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Posted 07 August 2013 - 18:42

The USA didnt give up on the space dream, we just think its cheaper to hitch a ride up with the russians rather than keep letting our shuttles blow up again and again... 2 out of the original 7 still exist lol

huh? The shuttle didn't "blow up" Challenger was a casualty of a rocket explosion, not the shuttle blowing up.... and Columbia didn't "blow up" it disintegrated... once again.. due to a rocket issue (foam)...

 

and there was five shuttles originally, only 4 were used... one was basically a test vehicle... the enterprise it was never meant to fly in orbit, the 5th operational one was built in 1991 to replace challenger