27 thoughts on “The New Space Race”

  1. “We also have the Artemis Accords, begun under President Donald Trump, continued under President Joe Biden and, really, continuing a policy dating back to President Barack Obama, which encourage America and many allies to set up lunar, Martian and asteroid settlements or mines. NASA is pushing a Moon landing within a few years, and SpaceX has similar plans.”

    Can Space Force buy and test SpaceX Starships?
    If Space Force bought some {at this point not really “ready to be
    bought as have not flown yet”} can Space Force test them. What would Space Force have to do to get any kind environmental assessment in order to fly them.
    So. Where would Space Force launch them?
    Or do we want to wait for some kind of emergency, in which the US Military, doesn’t “need” such assessments. Why not prepared for an emergency. Why depend on “emergency powers”?
    Why not have a launch site that can launch any US rocket.
    So, buy now, test now, and perhaps use Starships. Or US Military has used every US rocket [other than Shuttle} why not continue doing this?
    Now. Or in some emergency the Military will probably want to use a Starship.

    1. If you look at Starship/SuperHeavy as just another military system, then yes, Space Force could try to buy some. Probably the best way would be to buy some prototypes under Other Transaction Authority (OTA). There would be a huge stink (lawsuits from Sue Origin at the very least) if they tried to go sole source to SpaceX. Space Force would have to write their requirements for a fully reusable space booster capable of placing X tons of payload into specified orbits for Y acquisition cost and Z per mission cost, along with other requirements covering acceptable time between flights, number of flights per vehicle, etc. It wouldn’t be hard to write the requirements so that only SpaceX could win (happens all the time) but they’d have to be able to defend the requirements against the inevitable lawsuits. The hard part would likely getting Congress to approve and fund the contracts. SpaceX is still heavily vertically integrated, so they don’t play the “subcontractors in every congressional district” game. This cuts down on the opportunities for graft.

      The OTA streamlines the JCIDS process before Milestone B but doesn’t eliminate all of the bureaucracy. Space Force would supervise the flight test program like they do for aircraft. You would need to have a Low Rate Initial Production contract to cover the test program through Initial Operational Capability (IOC). Once everything meets Milestone C requirements, Space Force could order full production and declare Full Operational Capability (FOC).

      Basing would likely be at Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Space Force Bases. There is still enough real estate to support production and launch facilities and they could take advantage of the existing launch ranges.

      1. DOD should order missiles from SpaceX too. Doing things the old way has equipped the Air Force and Navy with about enough cruise missiles to last a morning against China or Russia.

      2. “Basing would likely be at Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Space Force Bases. ”

        Musk wants to be to launch a lot of starships. It’s reason for Starship. Space Force could want an expendable version as they want payload size rather lower costs. But if Space Force has interest in starship, they should consider any military use of being able to have a high launch rate. Such as launch more than anyone can knock out. If have capable to replace satellites quickly, you would deter anyone from knocking them out in the first place.
        So can Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg allow high launch rates of say 200-ton payloads?

        1. The current eastern and western launch ranges would need to be upgraded to handle that high of a launch rate, but it could be done.

        2. Elon just announced on Twitter that SpaceX has commenced construction of a Starship launch pad at LC-39A. “Will have similar, but improved, ground systems & tower to Starbase.”

        1. Or build them there. Early in the program, SpaceX had a team at the Cape and a team in Texas doing Starship construction.

  2. I feel like mentioning my long-standing hobby horse, what call a
    Last nite and looking at how pipelauncher could be used on Mars.
    Of course I have the other hobby horse of having lakes on Mars, and
    pipelauncher required deep water- so, if can lakes, one also have deep water:)
    Anyhow, pipelaunchers work really well on Mars, but there is low gravity loss with Mars, and pipelauncher other than being able to cheaply launch rockets from Ocean are mostly, about lowering gravity loss.
    Or one can easily make pipelauncher launch something as massive Starship on Mars, but less point to it, especially when considering need deep lake, and bigger lake could also be handy. And Mars doesn’t cheap water, people would probably want on this big expensive lake.

  3. USSF could do the US a big favor by siting its first Starship base at Edwards. RTLS and White Sands are available from there. Maybe a second site at Jackass Flats? Pickup some tourist trade from Las Vegas, etc.

    Incidentally, you do not have to fly SS/SH from factory to launch site, or build it at same. It’s not larger than the STS Orbiter or Buran, and can be airlifted on the back of a modified large transport aircraft (several of which have already been built and still exist). There’s a fair supply of retired 747s Musk could get relatively cheaply. They’d probably need a strongback attachment for SuperHeavy. That would tie it to 10K runway airports. Or maybe Musk could buy Airlander and build a fleet of dirigible airships… Not to mention barges, Saturn stages (10 meter) Shuttle ET and SLS (8.4 meter).

  4. The PRC certainly plans to take a dominant position in space. But all it has done to-date is challenge the Russians for first place in the race to announce big-deal notional projects backed by nothing much beyond PR releases. The money allocated by the PRC to study construction of giant space structures, for example, amounts to the equivalent of a few million U.S. dollars. Don’t expect to look up at night and see giant PRC solar powersats in GEO anytime soon – or, most likely, ever.

    The PRC, for the past 40 years, has been advancing by strapping capitalism to a yoke and by shifting population from agriculture to manufacturing.

    But it also imposed the One Child Policy that whole time. The Chinese population, as a whole, is now static, rapidly aging and the portion of it that is working age is rapidly shrinking. The Chinese population as a whole will also start shrinking in 20 or so years.

    Even now, the PRC economy is performing poorly relative to what it was doing just a few years ago. The demographic vise it put itself into with One Child guarantees several more decades of a Red Queen’s race in which it will be harder every year just to maintain position, never mind advance.

    Xi also seems determined to end Deng’s embrace of a mixed economy by returning to direct control of all large enterprises via a new army of commissars he is forcing into upper managements. This will prove roughly as tonic for the PRC economy as the One Child Policy has proven to be for its demographics.

    The bottom line is that the good times are over for the PRC and the regime’s future is problematic and likely fairly short. The rising anti-American bellicosity of Beijing has obvious echoes of the sort of “We will bury you,” rhetoric that characterized the late USSR from the early 60s through the early 80s. The PRC, like the USSR before it, seems fated to suffer a fatal brittle fracture too, likely within 10 years.

    That schedule could advance smartly if the PRC is so incautious as to make a military grab for Taiwan while U.S. leadership remains in the hands of a befuddled two-legged turnip. Even under Root Vegetable Joe, though, I don’t see the U.S. being a wallflower if the PRC deigns to open that particular ball.

    The PRC, in any case, would likely do far worse far more quickly if the U.S. did stay out of any fight over Taiwan. Japan, India and the ROK know they would be next on Beijing’s to-do list. Faced with that sort of existential threat, all three would likely go all-in against the PRC – and with none of the restraint probable in a coalition led by the U.S. India, for example, would quite likely expend most of its considerable nuclear arsenal against Chinese targets very early. The Indian Navy and the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force would shred the PLAN without mercy or quarter.

    1. Money goes a lot farther in China than it does in the USA. How effective the expansion of their military is is an unknown but hopefully we aren’t the ones it gets tested on.

      1. The PRC military is large, but it’s a conscript force of very questionable quality and has no combat experience. It’s also mostly a land force with almost no power projection or long-range logistics capability. The current PLAN would not be a match for either the Indian Navy or the Japanese Self-Defense Force never mind both working together. The PLAN has no amphibious operations capability of consequence. The PLAAF has virtually no large airlifters. Even invading Taiwan is well beyond the PLA’s practical capability. The PRC could do a lot of damage to Taiwan, but simply lacks the capability to take and hold it against any real opposition.

  5. My first impulse is to scoff and call this wishful thinking. But your last paragraph describes a scenario that would end far more badly than you imagine. Call it “WWIII, the Prequel.” I also don’t believe the Japanese will commit suicide to save Taiwan, much less commit suicide to die right alongside China, India, Taiwan, and South Korea. Be funny if it happened that way, the Russians held back, the USN was obliterated in the exchange, and Putin is sitting in his bunker thinking, “The prevailing winds blow the fallout *away* from Russia…” If I’m lucky (lucky?) I’ll be alive to see what happens next.

    1. The Japanese would not be committing suicide in opposing an attempted PRC takeover of Taiwan, they would be forestalling their own future extinction. Ditto with India and the ROK. Imagining the PRC being able to sweep all before it – including the farcical idea of “obliterating” the USN – strikes me as wishful thinking of the 1930s Charles Lindbergh variety. Worse, really, as the U.S. military, between the World Wars, really wasn’t in any shape to take on what became the Axis. That is hardly true of the U.S. vs. the PRC in the present. You’ve obviously fallen hook, line and sinker for all the PRC’s chest-thumping and braggadocio without looking at what it actually has and can realistically do.

      1. The chinese government lacks “faith” of its people, merely damaging, as in a “warning shot” at 3 gorges dam, could end all their aggression.
        Or what needed is perception rather than any significant damage.
        And Pooh bear would be gone.
        He is probably gone pretty soon, anyhow.
        Sort of like Joe Biden starting a war.
        Hey, Pooh bear could get rid of Joe, let’s send him a fruit basket for doing us a favor.

      2. Historical evidence is the Japanese will surrender before inevitable defeat, rather that fight to the death (as witness then end of WW2). Japan is about the size of California, and could be wiped out by a dozen or so nuclear warheads. So the odds are, Japan will not risk nuclear annihilation attempting to save Taiwan. “Better Red than dead.”

        The idea that China will not go nuclear if they are facing a conventional strategic defeat at the hands of Japan and Taiwan is wishful thinking, at best, and dangerous wishful thinking at that, because it relies on the notion that the US will step in to save Taiwan, and that China will not go nuclear because it will be afraid to. I sure you’re right, but I think you’re not,, despite all your insults about “hook line and sinker.” I’m fully aware of what the US and PRC realistically can do, so the question is what they will do. That’s not fully answerable, of course.

        Assuming that Japan is not bristling with secret nuclear weapons and delivery systems, a tactical outcome to a South China Sea War relies entirely on what the Biden Administration will do. I’m not confident. The Chinese can indeed take out the US capital ships and forward bases in the West Pacific, if they move quickly enough. That leads immediatly to either a global nuclear war, or to US withdrawal. What do you think Biden et al. will do? What do you think Biden’s Rainbow Flag generals and admirals will do?

        India? Well, it’s the only regional power that could conceivably carry off the Chinese to Hell with them in a regional nuclear war? If that US and Russian stayed out of it, southern and eastern Asia would be left a smoking ruin. Not bloody likely at this time.

        1. That said, there is a dangerous warfighting strategy that allows the US and its Indo-Pacific allies to take on China and defeat it in detail. It relies heavily on proper deployment of Aegus missles, 155mm howitzers and 5in Naval guns, both in-theater and zone interior. Equipped with saboted slugs, the guns can shoot down ballistic missles and incoming warheads, and, if ammunition is stockpiled in sufficient quantity (big if!!) would act to geld the Chinese nuclear forces. Having done that the US and its allies (including India) would be free to crush the Chinese forces, including the PLA on the mainland, who would no longer be protected from air strikes. Then what? Regime change in China? So far we and our allies have fucked that up at every opportunity. Unless you think the original plan was to leave the Taliban in charge?

          1. And, having said *that,* let me admit that I won the Wrong Answer Sweepstakes for the Twentieth Century, when, 30 years ago, I published a novel called “Fellow Traveler” that predicted the survival of the Soviet Union and its eventual triumph over the West. Best of all? It was published in August, 1991. Sheesh.

          2. I published a novel called “Fellow Traveler” that predicted the survival of the Soviet Union and its eventual triumph over the West. Best of all? It was published in August, 1991. Sheesh.


          3. The PRC does not have magic target acquisition and guidance systems capable of taking out the USN. And the U.S., for its part, also has no magical anti-missile battle management system capable of making 155mm howitzers and 5-in. naval guns effective against ballistic missile warheads. Nor do I think such a thing is even possible.

            Our post-9-11 wars ended badly because GWB stupidly chose – in defiance of our own demonstrably effective post-WW2 history of running and reforming conquered nations under governments of military occupation – to turn both Iraq and Afghanistan over to improvised local governments composed of the same sorts of bloody-minded and corrupt tribal barbarians we had quickly prevailed over in the fighting in both places.

            The U.S. might well want to complete the hat trick if a war against the PRC resulted in PRC defeat. If said war doesn’t involve the U.S., of course, that won’t happen. The Japanese and Indian victors will call the post-war tune in that case.

            But even if the U.S. does take part, I think India would insist on keeping control of China for some time as it is the only PRC opponent with the manpower to garrison and run the place. The Indians, I think, would “magnanimously” offer to relieve the U.S. of this off-putting chore and the U.S. would fall all over itself in its haste to agree.

          4. Tough luck on the book back in the day. Oh well, even Jerry Pournelle got that one wrong with his CoDominium stories of Grand Admiral Lermontov. You’re in a lot of good company anent missing that call.

            I never published my conclusions, but I did a few back-of-the-envelope calculations in the early 80s after the Nuclear Freeze movement and KAL 007 incident based on the then-accepted relative size numbers for the U.S. and USSR economies and their respective rates of growth. This convinced me that the USSR was an inevitable goner. I figured the USSR was more or less a cinch bet to see its 75th anniversary in 1992 but didn’t have a prayer of making it to its centenary in 2017. As things worked out, I gave the USSR far too much credit as its early-80s economy didn’t turn out to have been half that of the U.S. as the CIA had estimated, but much less. Garbage In, Garbage Out.

            My notions about the PRC’s inevitable fall are based less on its economy than on its entirely self-inflicted demographic implosion – a variable not at issue anent the late USSR. The PRC’s 75th anniversary will come in 2024. Unless it attacks Taiwan in the interim, I think the PRC will still exist three years hence. But I don’t see it as having a prayer of doing so until its notional centenary in 2049.

        2. With what would the PRC be able to “take out” U.S. capital ships in the Pacific? The PRC has long since claimed to be able to do this with IRBMs equipped with conventional warheads. Now the bogeyman du jour is supposedly their hypersonic glide vehicles. But both require some form of continuously updated find-and-follow guidance system to hit moving targets. Where, pray tell, is that to be found?

          The leaders of both Japan and India – neither of whom are afflicted with general idiocy compounded by advancing dementia – have long understood what comes next if the PRC takes Taiwan and the U.S. does not intervene. It seems quite reasonable to suppose both nations have long since prepared contingency plans for coordinated moves against the PRC should the Taiwan balloon go up.

          I think neither would announce hostilities in advance of initiating them. The Japanese would begin unrestricted submarine and surface warfare against the PLAN and send its air force to wipe out as much of the PRCs as it can. India, for its part, would smear the PRC strategic nukes and enough of China’s major dams to make what the Brits did to the Ruhr dams look penny-ante. It would then present the PRC with an instant two-front war on widely separated fronts by knifing quickly into the PRC interior using those nice new roads the Chinese were thoughtful enough to build right up to the Indian border as a logistical step to support its own planned future action against India.

          This is all fairly obvious stuff. Obvious enough, one hopes, that the PLA have run the same numbers and, thus, don’t make a grab for Taiwan at all.

  6. I will say only that underestimating your enemy is a good way to get whipped, while overestimating your enemy if good for a giggle after you whip them. Dick, your invocation of words like “magic” shows how misguided your thinking may be. You don’t have any proof of what you’re saying, and absense of evidence is not evidence of absense.

    As for “Fellow Traveler,” the story is more complicated than the humorous bit, of course. I wrote the outline in the 1970s, and contracted to write the book in 1988, right after the Buran launch, so it seemed more reasonable then. I turned it in to the publishers in 1989, and it took two more years to make it to the stores, but which time…

  7. One more comment: The Chinese could take out US assets (bases and capital ships) in the west Pacific with a dozen or so land based ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. If you don’t believe they have such missiles and warheads, show some evidence. If you don’t believe they’ll use them, I hope you’re right.

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