The New Space Race continues to coalesce.
For decades there were but three national entities that launched satellites or people into space: Russia, the US, and the European space agencies. But more recently China and US private enterprise have become more significant players.
On July 2, a Chinese expert announced its ongoing development of a heavy-lift booster that would outmatch NASA’s own Heavy Lift System which is also under development.
China is working on a super-powerful rocket that would be capable of delivering heavier payloads into low orbit than NASA, a leading Chinese space expert was quoted as saying Monday (Jul 2).
By 2030, the Long March-9 rocket under development will be able to carry 140 tonnes into low-Earth orbit – where TV and earth observation satellites currently fly – said Long Lehao, a senior official from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
This compares to the 20 tonnes deliverable by Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket or the 64 tonnes by Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy, which in February catapulted one of the US entrepreneur’s red Tesla Roadster cars towards Mars.
It would also outstrip the 130 tonnes of NASA’s Space Launch System, which is due to become operational in 2020.
China’s Long March-9 would have a core stage measuring 10m in diameter and boast four powerful boosters, each with a diameter of five metres.
Xinhua quoted Long as saying the rocket could be used in manned lunar landings, deep space exploration or constructing a space-based solar power plant.
Popular Mechanics notes that the lift capability of 140 tonnes is the same as the American Saturn V launch system was capable of sending into space. After the Apollo program was concluded in 1975, lofting satellites was largely bounded by a much lower weight limit of 24 tonnes by the American Space Shuttle. This limitation meant that the massive International Space Station (ISS) had to be put together piece-by-piece with relatively small modules that could be accomodated by this low capacity.
After the demise of the Shuttle program, interest in lofting larger payloads led to corporate development in space, with companies such as SpaceX and Blue Horizon establishing beachheads in the US. However, the decision of the United States to return to the Moon and to go on to Mars has spurred a new Space Race, one that is driven more by a combination of entrepreneurship than by Cold War-esque politics.
China is also taking a page from the developments introduced by both Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Horizon, by developing a reusable space rocket, capable of vertical landings in like manner to that of the two entrepreneurs.
China hopes to meet and surpass the achievements of the US and Russian Federation, with big plans for the future, such as establishing a base on the moon, this according to the Communist Party chief of the China Academy of Space Technology.