One thing I get a kick out of (and find very annoying), is how articles in the mainstream press, even those magazines and journals that profess to be “science” journals don’t bother to do their homework on their statements and information. One key area is that of an article I saw recently on Popular Science online entitled: “China’s Private Space Industry Prepares to Compete with SpaceX and Blue Origin.”
What’s frustrating to me is that the article paints the Chinese companies as if they are some lone, wealthy Chinese citizens who want to push out into space on their own dime and with the freedom to do so. Yet, if you look in between the lines or even in the info they provide, one can see that its not the same as the United States private sector.
Before I get too far into examples from the article, let me make it perfectly clear what kind of “private sector” the People’s Republic of China has. In case anyone forgot, China is ran in all of its areas by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Understanding that the CCP has altered its form from the traditional Maoist version of Marxism to a more hybrid approach thanks to Deng Xiopeng’s efforts in the late 20th Century, it is still communist “with Chinese characteristics”. This means that Beijing keeps a tight grip on what businesses in China are allowed to do and aren’t allowed to do. They even have control over who is CEO in each company and if any one CEO acquires more power than makes the CCP comfortable, they are replaced. Each CEO has a red phone (not kidding) at their desk so if Xi Jinping or other members of the senior leadership of the CCP need to check in, they can. The ultimate objective of the CCP is to maintain one party rule and to maintain control over the military and the strategic culture of the nation. (if interested, I can give you a book or two that gives some background on this relationship between government and “business”.
Back to the article. They mention a few capabilities that they claim in PopSci that are meant for sub-orbital and orbital tourism and research flights. However, if you pay close attention…what is their true purpose of creation? Weaponry and reconstitution assurance in event of a space war. One example that sticks out like a sore thumb is the Kuaizou.
Look at what they say in the midst of their excitement laden article…
“The Kuaizhou, which is derived from the launch vehicle for Chinese anti-satellite weapons and midcourse missile defense interceptors, is a solid-fueled, 2 diameter rocket; the latest KZ-11 can loft a 1.5 ton payload to low Earth orbit at a launch cost of $10,000 per kg. Expace’s [the Chinese “company”] target market is to launch small satellites for domestic and foreign customers; the solid fuel of the KZ-11 also means that compared to liquid fueled rockets, it can be launched on demand.”
It was designed by CALT for anti-satellite weapons and mid-course missile defense interceptors. It also can launch small satellites as a “launch on demand”. Launch on demand in America can also be called “Operationally Responsive Space”. Even if the Chinese market this vehicle to foreign governments, most likely those foreign governments will be those of the developing world and all payloads and access to the launch vehicle will be severely restricted to PLA launch personnel or government leaders with CALT, among other nations. So after reading its intended purpose…can you really say that this is part of an “emerging commercial space launch company”?
Let me ask it another way. Even though SpaceX sells launches on Falcon 9 and the future Falcon Heavy to the USAF and NRO, what was the intent of Elon Musk in building this vehicle? To gain experience to eventually colonize Mars. If you read comments from Gwynne Shotwell or others in leadership…the reason for the NASA and USAF contracts is to make money to be able to build the Interplanetary Transport System he spoke of at the IAC in Mexico. These Chinese rockets were designed to blow American spacecraft out of orbit and in the case theirs are destroyed, replace them fast with their quick response satellite launchers! Kind of a difference in intent there, folks.
As for the sub-orbital and orbital space planes…while exciting looking…I am curious what their launch payload deployment systems look like as well as a few other pieces of design info. In addition to sending people from the developing world up for propaganda prestige garnering flights, I am wondering what else they plan to use it for? A recently quoted Chinese military document written by Li, Cheng and Zeng entitled Integrated Aerospace Information Operations states that manned platforms, such as spaceplanes, are the “best space weapon for attacking satellites in low Earth orbit, synchronous orbit [GEO], and high orbit” and that they are perfect for conducting recon and surveillance of other military targets. So yes, they can carry passengers, but they can also do a lot more. What is the intent of these Chinese projects? We ignore this part of the puzzle at our own peril.
I support Blue Origin and SpaceX’s efforts to open up space for development and colonialization. Great stuff. Their intent is clear, their patriotism has been discussed in speeches and Congressional hearings as U.S. companies. While they work internationally in the launch market, they still understand I would gather the difference in a U.S. company as truly being private, as compared to a government ran, subsidized “company” like Expace who are re-fashioning kinetic space weapons into propaganda generating machines for prestige. Big difference.
Now, having said all that…I totally get why China would do this. Makes total sense from a grand strategy perspective. Showing versatility of their space technology is an important step toward gathering influence in space policy forums worldwide. Also, making money is a good thing too. Influence, Control, Prestige, Power…all are intertwined here. lets remember that when U.S. companies compete, they are truly competing in the traditional, capitalistic way.
Just some thoughts to keep in the back of your mind before you get too excited about these developments in China….