Last weekend (April 24), China celebrated its sixth National Space Day (also known as the Aerospace Achievement Exhibition) in Nanjing, an event that highlights China’s space achievements. Like Space Day, which is held every year on the first Thursday in May (this year, it will be held on May 7), the goal is to stimulate interest in space exploration and STEMS so as to inspire the next generation of astronauts and space engineers. .
This year the celebrations were focused on Chang’e-5 mission (which showed some of the lunar specimens she had returned) and the name of the first rover in China (Jurong) – which will land on the Red Planet later this month. But another interesting piece was a video presented by one of China̵
The video, titled “One Hour of Global Arrival in the Space Transportation System,” was presented by the Chinese Academy of Car Launch Technology (CALT), one of the major state-owned rocket manufacturers. Similar to what Musk and SpaceX offer for Star ship, the video explores the potential for missile systems that could provide point – to – point suborbital transport services.
The animation was recorded and uploaded on the Chinese social network Weibo (video above), which is accompanied by the following description (translated directly from Mandarin):
The promotional animation of the “One-Hour Global Arrival in the Space Transport System” of the First Academy of Aerospace Engineering, compare? This afternoon was recorded by [2021 Chinese Astronomy Day] Stand of the Chinese Academy of Car Launch Technology at the Aerospace Industry Achievement Exhibition. If you want to make an appointment to visit the Moon Land, please go to the end of this blog. “
In the video we can see two different concepts for achieving suborbital passenger flights, which could work until the 2040s. The video came to the attention of Ars Technica’s Eric Berger, who covered it on Youtube so that it could reach a wider audience. The animation begins with a spaceport with several launch sites nearby. On each of them we see two-stage missiles with vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), which look strikingly similar to Star ship and Super heavy
Also similar to Star ship is the way the booster from the first stage returns to Earth after splitting, which shows that it is a fully usable system. We then see passengers scanning the Earth and experiencing temporary weightlessness before the spacecraft begins to descend on a motorcycle. The flight ends with the landing of the spacecraft in a large city that is a few time zones away (since it is night time where they land).
In addition to its appearance and configuration, the animation is also similar to the Earth-to-Earth concept video released by SpaceX in September 2017 (shown below). In this animation, a Star ship ferries passengers from a platform at sea off the coast of New York and landed on a similar platform off the coast of Shanghai in just 34 minutes.
The second point-to-point concept in the Chinese animation shows a horizontal take-off and landing vehicle (HTOL) that is launched by an electromagnetic rail. Once this “spacecraft” is ejected into the air, it appears to launch a hybrid-powered rocket engine to accelerate from Mach 2 to Mach 15 (supersonic to hypersonic) and achieve suborbital flight.
Both concepts include technology and ideas that are widely popular at the moment, both in space agencies and in the commercial space. Numerous reusable rocket and spacecraft concepts are currently being developed between NASA, ESA, SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, Reaction Engines and other federal and private programs.
Moreover, both are in line with China’s long-term goal of becoming the world’s leading space power by 2045. According to a roadmap published by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation in 2017, China hopes to develop a “suborbital “vehicle” by 2025, which will eventually grow into a fleet that can deliver cargo anywhere in the world by 2035 and passengers by 2045.
The obvious similarity between the CALT missile concept and Star ship is also in line with the way China has observed SpaceX’s progress practically from the beginning. As Eric Berger points out in his recently published book I’m taking off – which tells of the early struggles of SpaceX – a Chinese spy boat was stationed off the coast of Omelek Island (part of the Marshall Islands, South Pacific) in 2006 to observe the inaugural flight of Sokol 1.
More recent examples include the inclusion of “lattice gratings” in the Long March 2C rocket (similar to Sokol 9) in the name of future re-use, as well as the development of the Long March 8 for landing on offshore platforms. China ‘s long – term plan for Long March 9th – which will be the most powerful system for trucks in the country after it is put into operation (planned for the 2030s) – includes its conversion into partial reuse.
Meanwhile, it is unclear whether China plans to develop Star shipsuch a rocket will include equipment for missions to the moon and mars (in addition to point-to-point suborbital flights). But since regular missions to the moon and Mars were also part of the roadmap, it is entirely possible that China intends to accept Star ship design and profile of the mission in its entirety.
One thing is for sure: China intends to be on superpower in space towards the middle of 21st century, not just one of several. Although they have to catch up before it can happen, their growth rate is unmatched.
Further reading: Ars Technica, Weibo