China has just unveiled its newest weapon that will no doubt give Elon Musk and the USA a run for their money. Beijing has unveiled what it calls the CZ-8, an 800m long rocket which was designed to carry a payload of up to 140 tons into low Earth orbit (LEO). That’s over 3 times as much as the Space X Heavy Falcon rocket which was successfully launched last month.
China’s new rocket, called Long March 9, is expected to have a range of 10,000 kilometres. According to China’s Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), it will be capable of carrying up to 100 tons into low-Earth orbit (LEO) or 50 tons into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). This means China will be able to take crewed missions all over our solar system, including Mars. The planned launch vehicle can carry up to 50 metric tons and fly as far as Mars, said Zhou Jianping, Chief Designer of China’s Lunar Exploration Program. Compared with international peers, we are more advanced in terms of propulsion technology.
Long March 9 is planned to make its first flight around 2030, after following three steps: Long March 5 (around 2018), Long March 6 (around 2020) and Long March 7 (around 2022). By that time, China will have finished constructing a new space centre in Wenchang City of south China’s Hainan Province. The city already hosted several successful launches in preparation for China’s lunar mission, Change-3.
A prototype of China’s Mars rover sits under testing at an experimental field in Beijing.
The Long March 9 is estimated to be able to send up 120 tons of payload into Low Earth Orbit (LEO), or 40 tons in Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, on the other hand, can only launch 53.5 tons. While that may not seem like much compared to China’s new creation, there is another huge difference: cost. The Long March 9 costs an estimated $10 billion, whereas Falcon Heavy costs $200 million. It has been speculated that if SpaceX managed to create a reusable rocket similar in size and capacity to Long March 9, they could cut their cost in half. This would allow them to launch over twice as much weight into LEO for about half of what China spent building theirs.
China is not only catching up in terms of space payload but also seems to be ahead of SpaceX when it comes to reusability. Since China’s rockets are mostly expendable, they do not have a secondary launch system; however, Long March 9 will be used just once every five years. This means that if China can make their craft reusable as SpaceX has with Falcon 9 they could save millions in terms of launching expenses since they would not need to create entirely new craft each time.
This leads us to our next point: while SpaceX has made huge strides in making reusable rockets, they are still not as efficient as China’s Long March 9. China plans on having all of its future launches be fully expendable; however, if they could create a reusable craft with its launch capabilities, they would be able to launch roughly seven times more payloads into LEO than they can now. While that may seem extreme compared to Falcon Heavy’s two times more payload, any savings at all are helpful when trying to make space travel cost-effective.
China’s Long March 9 is cheaper than SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy which will launch in February 2018. The Long March 9 has an estimated cost of $10bn compared to Falcon Heavy at $90bn. This could bring large quantities of space travel within reach for countries around the world that wouldn’t have previously been able to afford it. It will be much cheaper [than other rockets] because we have done all our homework, says Zhang Bainan, chief designer at China Aerospace Science & Technology Corp (CASC). We can mass-produce most components … so we don’t need one set made by one company or another set made by another company. One size fits all.
When comparing China’s Long March 9 with NASA’s Space Launch System, Zhang claims his country’s rocket is better: The main difference between our system and NASA’s is that ours has two stages. The core stage of our launcher can carry almost twice as much payload as theirs, which will make them less competitive, he told China Daily. If everything goes well, CASC aims to launch its heaviest-ever rockets by 2025 or so. This could potentially see its huge rockets carrying 140-tonne cargoes into low-Earth orbit – bigger than anything even Nasa could manage at present.
Beijing boasts that its Long March 9 will be more powerful than NASA’s Space Launch System. The Long March 9 is due to make its maiden voyage in 2025, carrying China’s core space station module. This will be followed by 20 launches of Long March 5B – each capable of delivering 25 tonnes into low-Earth orbit. By comparison, NASA is still working on its own giant rocket – called SLS (Space Launch System). It’s hoped SLS will deliver 140 tonnes into low-Earth orbit – but could cost $11bn (£8bn) per launch.
Sorts Out The Space Race Between China, Russia and The US!
With China successfully launching their first space station into orbit with an unmanned spacecraft, America and Russia are forced to scramble. According to Chinese officials, they’re planning on launching another space station next year, one that will be bigger than any other in operation. And while Russia is still hard at work building out their Soyuz rockets (which could allow them to send crews of up to six people into low-Earth orbit), most experts agree that there’s not much reason for concern right now: The U.S. will keep its edge over Russia—and perhaps even China—until 2023 or 2024, when commercial launches begin carrying astronauts into space aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner or SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.
In the meantime, both China and Russia are focused on getting crews into space, which will allow them to practice (and perfect) in-space operations. China is planning on sending up two research missions next year, while Russia’s Soyuz 2.1v booster will make its first test launch from Vostochny Cosmodrome in 2018—the same year they plan on launching a more advanced Soyuz MS-series vehicle that can carry six people into low-Earth orbit. The space race may be neck-and-neck right now, but with an ambitious schedule like that, there’s little doubt that China will claim victory sooner rather than later.
But while they all make headway, there’s one important thing that China still needs to accomplish before they can reach Mars: they need to figure out how long humans can stay in space. Studies show that once you get beyond 210 days, astronauts start seeing significant decreases in muscle strength due to weightlessness—and after 600 days, those effects become permanent. Right now, China only has tested its crewed Shenzhou spacecraft for up to 180 days—and if we want mankind to make an expedition to Mars (let alone go on longer missions), then we need a better understanding of what happens when you leave gravity behind forever…
Without even realizing it, Americans have developed a cultural inferiority complex when it comes to China. This may be because we like our gadgets fast and hot (Change-3 satellite), or maybe because we are enthralled by Chinese kung fu (Jet Li) or martial arts (Jackie Chan). Whatever you believe, as China continues its upward economic growth, there is no doubt that it will continue to dominate US technology. As stated in an interview with a senior research fellow at American Enterprise Institute Jeffrey G. Lewis: the United States was never going to win in a straight-up competition with China. My question is why? Why do we seem so unprepared? Instead of studying Mandarin in school, we should study Chinese history.
China has already beaten us at several things. In 2008, China used solar-powered aircraft designed by Dongfan Fang, called Solar Challenger II to fly over 6200 miles from Nanjing, China to Nagoya, Japan. Meanwhile, NASA is still using fossil fuels in its space exploration programs. It is estimated that NASA uses $10 million of fuel per day in its six orbiters. The organization also relies on Russia for crewed transportation and doesn’t even have any commercial space flight programs! The Chinese are also far ahead of US technological developments in other industries: communication technology; microchip development; anti-gravity research; quantum physics…the list goes on and on.
If you do need any more convincing of China’s technological superiority over us, then take a look at our nation’s state of roads. The US national infrastructure report card awarded our country a D+. There are more than 40,000 bridges in America that are considered structurally deficient and half of them are 50 years old or older. The Shanghai World Financial Center is taller than One World Trade Center (1,250 ft/381 m), Trump Tower Chicago is shorter than Ping An International Finance Centre (2,073 ft/625 m) and Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Station will be longer than New York City’s Grand Central Terminal (521 ft/158 m).
As far as I’m concerned, China is already ahead of us in a lot of ways, but even with its technological achievements, I do not think that China will ever catch up to the US. The reason why lies in the cultural differences between our two countries. While Chinese businesses are driven by financial gain, Americans are driven by innovation and creativity. We (Americans) created some of history’s most profitable technologies and transformed entire industries with game-changing inventions: touchscreen technology; internet browsing; Facebook; Google Earth…the list goes on and on.
While China is busy checking off its business accomplishments, we are still innovating and creating. And, despite all of its technological feats, I do not think that will ever change because there is something about us Americans that drives us. If you ask me, I’d have to say that we will always be on top as long as there are people like Bill Gates in our nation who continue looking at life through an innovation-driven lens. After all, he didn’t call himself Steve Jobs (even though Steve Jobs was an innovator), he called himself Bill Gates — after William H. Gates Sr., his father. He followed in his dad’s footsteps with companies like Microsoft.
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