As the private spaceflight firm SpaceX works to bring more commercial rocket launches back to the United States, it anticipates some stiff competition from the burgeoning Chinese space program.
“We really feel at SpaceX that the competition is going to be the Chinese space program,” Adam Harris (Spacex VP government affairs) said last month during a panel discussion at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Space 2013 conference in San Diego.
The U.S. responsible for just two of the 38 commercial space launches that took place in 2011 and 2012.
Spacex currently has more than 50 missions worth nearly $5 billion on its launch manifest, Harris said, adding that the U.S. government accounts for just 32 percent of that manifest.
The biggest threat to SpaceX’s continued success in signing up customers over the long haul is likely not the Ariane 5 or the Proton, Harris said, but Chinese vehicles such as the Long March rocket family.
China’s space plans are indeed ambitious. For example, Chinese officials have said they want to return lunar samples to Earth with a robotic spacecraft by 2016 or so. They also hope to have a manned, 60-ton space station up and running by 2020, and to put a “taikonaut” on the moon shortly thereafter.
The nation has been making serious progress toward such goals, launching manned missions to dock with the prototype orbiting module Tiangong 1 in both 2012 and 2013.
Roscosmos Kaskad rockets look like Spacex Rockets
Roscosmos aka Russian Space Federal Agency (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Federal_Space_Agency) builds russian rockets. They recently announced the Kaskad rocket family. The rockets look inspired the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy.
They are clusters of small low pressure kerosene engines.
An advanced planning division at GKNPTs Khrunichev drafted a family of launchers with a payload ranging from 16.6 tons to almost 130 tons. Each standard booster in the proposed fleet would have a diameter of 3.9 meters, matching the “caliber” of the Zenit rocket, and carry 415 tons of fuel.
Ukraine Mayak rockets also build off the Zenit and are going towards clusters of engines
The Mayak project would take maximum advantage of technological and engineering heritage from the Tsyklon and Zenit rockets. KB Yuzhnoe did not identify the propulsion systems intended for the family, but did say that all stages of Mayak would employ non-toxic liquid oxygen and kerosene.
China seems to have the consistent and stable funding for its space program and long term plan. They fully commit to the long range plan and then execute it over many years.
China claims to have spent around $6 billion on its human spaceflight program. Analysts have learned to be wary of any official spending figures from China, especially with regard to its military budget.
There is probably a fair amount of latitude in this claim, when the cost of labour and services from state-run enterprises features so prominently in these calculations. But one broad conclusion remains undeniable. China is running an advanced space program on a very modest budget.
China’s economy is expected to outstrip America’s in the near future. If it elects to spend more money on spaceflight, it will achieve far more than NASA can for the same level of investment. China’s space program is not only moving fast. It is accelerating.
The Ukraine and Russia have the rocket knowledge to follow what Spacex has done. Spacex is proving out a model for low cost launches.