REALSPACE: So What Will China Be Doing In Space While We're Doing Nothing?

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As everyone and their dog knows by this point, the Obama administration has effectively killed maned spaceflight for a decade. There's some shuck about how it'll be outsourced to private industry, and while I *do* think private industrial access to space is vitally important, I also don't believe for a minute that it'll ever happen. It's just a conveniently distracting lie so the Democrats can blame their lack of vision on companies for the forseeable future. "Well, it's not our fault we don't have anyone in space! It's all Space-X's fault for not launching people like they promised!"

But what will the other spacefaring countries be doing during our long and unconsionable nap?

Well, China is planning on going to the moon. They intend to be there by 2020, and on Mars by 2030. Our recently-abandoned "Project Constellation" called for a return to the moon by 2018, but of course that isn't going to happen now.

It's interesting that China has more-or-less refused to get caught up in a 'space race.' They said they were going to the moon by 2020 in 2003. We announced we were going back in 2005, and that we'd be there in 2018. The Chinese continued to say they'd be there by 2020, and they simply didn't care what we did or how we did it.

Details are scant, of course, but we can make some educated guesses as to how this'll transpire.

The Chinese presently use the "Long March IV" rocket to put their Shenzhou spacecraft in orbit. This is roughly comparable to the Russian Soyuz booster in capabilities. They've been very conservative about using it, and sparing in their use of their Shenzhou spacecraft, but even though they're going slow (3 manned launches in six years), each launch appears quite a bit more ambitious and successful than the one that preceeded it.

Late this year, they'll launch "Tiangong 1," the first in a series of small, Salyut-style space station. Its first crew will go up sometime next year, and the station will be in service for two or three years, then replaced by Tiangong 2, and eventually Tiangong 3. There's nothing new or impressive about these, but they are a defineable step forward, and they will allow the Chinese to get firsthand experience with a myriad of space-related problems, abilities, and experiments.

Meanwhile, they continue to develop their "Long March V" booster. When completed in 2015, this will be the second-most powerful rocket in the world (Behind our own Delta IV Heavy by only 800 kilograms in payload), and will be capable of lifting almost a third more than the old Saturn 1-B.

They don't seem interested in developing a Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle like the Saturn V, or the N-1. It appears to me that their lunar plans are Orbital Rendezvous, and not a 'direct aproach' like Apollo used: They'll launch a Shenzhou, which will dock with a lander and a booster. The booster will take them to the moon, the lander will take them down and back up, and then the Shenzhou will fly them back home again. It's a somewhat more tedious mission than we're used to, there's a definite 'steerage class' aspect to it, but - important - it is well within thier capabilities to pull it off in the next decade.

And they will, because they have the will, the drive, the determination which we seem to have abandoned, sadly.