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Rethinking The Chinese Space Program
Glenn has a piece at TCS about it today. He links also to the one I wrote for National Review back in the fall of ought three. In addition, he links to another one that Mark Whittington wrote at The Space Review in the summer of that year. There, Mark wrote:
One interesting point against the idea of a Chinese space threat was made recently by Rand Simberg in his Transterrestrial Musings weblog. He stated, “a true free-market approach (of which, under the current regime, I suspect they’re incapable) will leave them in the dust. That’s why I don’t even consider them relevant to our species’ future in space, unless they display some dramatic change in approach.” The problem is that the United States is not following a free market approach in space flight. NASA is still insisting on running its own space line, rather than going to the private sector for launch services, for example.
Well, the problem is that we actually are, if you ignore NASA, or even if you don't, assuming that we can take the administration at its word about incorporating commercial providers into the new exploration activities. What a difference a year and a half makes, in which the X-Prize has been won, several funded competitors have come out of the closet, and we have a new regulatory policy that encourages private passenger spaceflight. Meanwhile, China continues to plod along in the old Soviet path.
I wonder if Mark has changed his mind since? Apparently not, since he (presumably) provided the link to Glenn. I did so to point out that my opinion hasn't changed since the fall of '03. Despite his continuing pride in it, I think that Mark's has stood up a little less well to the test of time.Posted by Rand Simberg at January 26, 2005 10:00 AM
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NASA doesn't want to keep running it's own private fleet. At least not everybody at NASA feels that way.
But the alternatives have been very few until recently.
You basically have had Boeing on the left and Lockheed Martin on the right. Anything else would have meant crossing the political dance floor to find a new dance partner. And both of those dates have proved very jealous of competition in the past.Posted by Mazoo at January 26, 2005 10:27 AM
>What a difference a year and a half makes, in which the X-Prize has been won, several funded competitors have come out of the closet, and we have a new regulatory policy that encourages private passenger spaceflight.
Which amounts to a small number of sub-orbital proving flights in a suborbital vehicle.
There are some other people with varying degree of cut metal and paper studies who have varying degrees of funding. None of whom have, as yet, orbited anything, let alone demonstrated an ability to de-orbit it in a controlled and safe manner.
It requires as Derek Lyons oft remarks on ssp some seriously rose tinted glasses to make this look good.
> Meanwhile, China continues to plod along in the old Soviet path.
Yes. Yes it does. But I *know* they can put somebody into space and get them back alive. I can't say that for anybody else at this stage.Posted by Daveon at January 26, 2005 11:45 AM
I am still looking for some movement on space property rights. So far everyone is in a communist utopia on that front.Posted by Sam Dinkin at January 26, 2005 11:54 AM
His blog this morning is still predicting "a long term space race between the United States and China."Posted by Edward Wright at January 26, 2005 12:03 PM
Yes, like those little toy microcomputers....
> It requires as Derek Lyons oft remarks on ssp some seriously rose tinted glasses
Much like the glasses worn by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, when the Derek Lyons of the world thought there was a market for maybe ten large computers. Seeing the future always takes a certain amount of vision.
> Yes. Yes it does. But I *know* they can put somebody into space and get
Burt Rutan has put somebody into space and gotten them back alive. Better buy those corrective lenses. :-)Posted by Edward Wright at January 26, 2005 12:11 PM
Things have of course improved since I wrote the piece in question, with the Moon, Mars, and Beyond Vision, the winning of the X Prize, and the new business friendly Space Transportation policy. However, all of that, while a good response to the Chinese space challenge (and good policy in their own right), does not wipe it away or make it not matter. Besides, there will be lots of opportunities to screw things up in the years and decades to come, unless vigilence is practiced.Posted by Mark R. Whittington at January 26, 2005 01:07 PM
Wow. Continuing EELV subsidies for the next 10 years, developing a new government HLV, and developing a new Next Generation Launch Vehicle -- all in competition with the private sector -- is "business friendly"?
Out of curiousity, Mark -- is there any possible policy you would consider business *un*friendly?Posted by Edward Wright at January 26, 2005 02:15 PM
I had in the previous statement mentioned orbit, that's what I was intending when I said "space" sorry for not being clearer.
>Yes, like those little toy microcomputers....
Ed, if space travel develops like those toy microcomputers did that would be wonderful.
If could agree terms, I'm prepared to place a small wager that this will not occur.Posted by Daveon at January 26, 2005 05:08 PM
>His blog this morning is still predicting "a long >term space race between the United States and >China."
At this rate the race will be between India and China. All the US has shown recently is the ability to spend billions of dollars on agencies and programs so bureaucratic and unproductive it makes even the Russians shudder.
Don't forget that the "old Soviet path" produced a satellite before we did, better manned and unmanned launchers than ours, better rocket engines than ours, a space station long before we did, and an automated rendezvous and docking capability we still haven't been able to achieve.Posted by Kevin Parkin at January 26, 2005 06:26 PM
I bet Burt will be surprised to hear he's spent billions of dollars.Posted by at January 26, 2005 10:58 PM
Burt's accomplishments, which are awe-inspiring, are nevertheless far from the center of gravity of the US space industry.
That center of gravity does need to shift to dynamic and talented organizations like Scaled Composites and SpaceX, and I believe that's the thrust of Rand's argument, along with probably a half dozen similar arguments in defense circles right now.
Even then, I think the US will be hard-pressed to compete, as there won't be much of a science and engineering base left to compete with. On that front, politicians currently have at best rose tinted glasses, and at worst they're asleep at the wheel. Technology is the core of US dominance and economic prosperity.
As is a theme at Davos, China and India are emerging as the world's economic powerhouses, they both have young and growing (rather than old and shrinking) science and engineering bases, they both will have the resources, and they both have stated ambitions for the Moon.Posted by Kevin Parkin at January 27, 2005 06:53 AM
Our science and engineering base is fine -- as a group, it does by far the best work of any country's.
If we didn't waste the vast majority of our aerospace science and engineering resources (how many people work on the Space Shuttle?), then we would be able to dismiss the worry about being "caught" by a soviet-derived and inspired program. It wouldn't matter that the potential competitor has 4 times as many people as we do (or 7 times, including both China and India).Posted by Dan Schmelzer at January 27, 2005 08:05 AM
> As is a theme at Davos, China and India are emerging as the world's economic powerhouses
Ya -- as Von Braun would say -- our soviets vill beat there sovuets! All ve need is unlimited funding!
I take it Davos is some university, where they still believe in sociali sm?
Throughout the Cold War, the CIA produced reports that showed the Soviet economy was growing faster than the West and would soon overtake the West. Guess what? Never happened.
If China and India continue on their current path, in 40 years they'll have their own International Space Station. Maybe China will have a semi-"reusable" space shuttle while India will stll be using Soyuzski capsules. To maintain that symbol of national prestige, they'll spend billions of dollars a year.Posted by at January 27, 2005 09:36 AM
What a difference a year and a half makes, in which the X-Prize has been won, several funded competitors have come out of the closet, and we have a new regulatory policy that encourages private passenger spaceflight. Meanwhile, China continues to plod along in the old Soviet path.
Maybe the Chinese are just waiting for Rutan, et. al. to build a genuine honest-to-God low cost Earth to LEO RLV.
Then they will steal one and start making thousands of copies paying their workers 95 cents an hour.
Oh wait, Rutan would hold the patents.
Okay, nevermind. :-)Posted by Bill White at January 27, 2005 10:10 AM
Sure, Bill. Those $0.95/hr workers would explain why China is beating the pants off Boeing and Airbus in the airliner business...Posted by Rand Simberg at January 27, 2005 10:15 AM
>I take it Davos is some university, where they still believe in sociali sm?
No, Davos is the World Economic Forum this week. And I'm quite sure they believe in capitalism.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4209709.stmPosted by Kevin Parkin at January 27, 2005 11:04 AM
Sure, Bill. Those $0.95/hr workers would explain why China is beating the pants off Boeing and Airbus in the airliner business...
Good point. Better hire some Ukrainians to help make the reverse engineered knock offs. . .
Posted by Bill White at January 27, 2005 11:44 AM
> Good point. Better hire some Ukrainians to help make the reverse engineered knock offs. . .
Rand, you need to start adding "Blatantly obvious sarcasm" warnings for the sake of the oblivious Bill.Posted by at January 27, 2005 01:36 PM
Long experience indicates that such warnings probably wouldn't help.Posted by Rand Simberg at January 27, 2005 01:41 PM
More to the point, Bill, look at the Japanese.
Technologically proficient and relatively cheaper than the US (certainly in the 1980s and early 1990s), yet for all their efforts, yet to produce either an airliner of their own (for all that they construct various parts and components for Boeing), or a reliable space launch vehicle (unless you consider the H-2 a reliable launcher??).
Somehow, the Japanese, who are capitalists of a sort, and with a very strong intellectual base, were unable to live up to their "next superpower" status (accorded, for the most part, by Westerners more than the Japanese themselves), yet the Chinese, who have far more problems bubbling underneath, will make state direction of key industries (including aerospace) work even better than the USSR.Posted by Dean at January 27, 2005 02:38 PM
A very interesting point. Perhaps then it has something to do with the inherent creativity or objectivity or persistence of a culture. Or perhaps it's just plain necessity, e.g. WWII etc.
It might explain the relative success of Russia, Europe, and the US. If you could poll and quantify that spark in some systematic way, as is done with consumer sentiment, that would be a powerful indicator indeed; an R&D sentiment indicator for example.
Does anybody know of studies in this area?Posted by Kevin Parkin at January 27, 2005 04:34 PM
Topical opinion piece from Robert Zimmerman (UPI):
"So it might be prudent to consider the possibility that the first humans to reach Mars might be speaking Russian -- not English -- when they get there."
http://www.spacedaily.com/news/oped-05r.htmlPosted by Kevin Parkin at January 28, 2005 05:57 AM
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