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Invoking China to keep the shuttle alive

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a commentary by Richard D. Fisher, Jr., a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, discussing claims of Chinese work on a military space plane of some kind and its implications for US national security and space policy. (Those without a WSJ.com subscription can read Fisher’s essay on his center’s web site.) Fisher strings together evidence from Chinese military publications, blogs, and other sources that suggests China is developing something called the Shenlong, or “Divine Dragon”, spaceplane. (More of this evidence is discussed in a previous essay by Fisher, which includes some photos that suggest the Shenlong right now appears to be roughly equivalent in size and capability to the X-34 or X-37.)

To Fisher, Shenlong is an ominous development, giving China the ability to strike quickly and without any defense: “A larger unmanned space plane based on the Shenlong could easily be designed to carry out precision ground-attack missions at speeds and at altitudes that would avoid interception.” He adds: “Today the U.S. has no capability to deter China’s potential use of military space planes.”

It’s difficult to gauge how accurate these claims are—Chinese military planning is hardly transparent, as Fisher notes—but assume for the time being that these claims are accurate, and China is indeed developing a spaceplane of some kind for military applications, including weapons delivery. How, then, should the US respond? “At a minimum, Washington should delay the planned 2010 retirement of the Space Shuttle until a new space plane can replace it, as a way to retain a deterring potential military capability,” he argues. In his earlier essay, he added, “It may instead now be necessary to consider retaining one or two Shuttles and to develop defensive and offensive payloads for them, until a less expensive and perhaps smaller unmanned or manned space plane can be developed.”

That’s a difficult recommendation to take seriously. The shuttle is expensive, hardly responsive, and all but disowned by the military for nearly two decades. How the shuttle could “deter” any Chinese military spaceplane isn’t at all obvious. If the Pentagon was truly concerned about the threat posed by such a Chinese capability, a better approach might be to put more money into the Falcon program, both for the small launch vehicle and hypersonic cruise vehicle that could have “prompt global reach” (or, sometimes, “prompt global strike”) capabilities. However, Fisher doesn’t mention Falcon in his essays, and only makes a passing reference to the X-37.

34 comments to Invoking China to keep the shuttle alive

  • Nemo2

    Jeff,

    I agree. Fisher’s obvious mis-understanding of the Shuttle as a “deterring military capability” makes me question the credibility of the entire IASC report. Fisher clearly does not have an understanding of the Shuttle’s capability, let alone an understanding of our EXISTING national security plans, such as the Operationally Responsive Space program, the FALCON program, and the AFRL’s FAST program.

    That is unfortunate.

    Hopefully others will be able to validate or refute the the core “new data” that Fisher reports on — specifically on China’s plans and activities to develop a spaceplane. That is the core of his report; and that is where Fisher’s expertise resides.

    FWIW, I found Fisher’s bio at the International Assessment and Strategy Center website.

    http://www.strategycenter.net/scholars/scholarID.4/scholar_detail.asp

    Rick Fisher is IASC Vice President and Director of the Center’s Project on Asian Security and Democracy. Fisher is a recognized authority on the PRC military and the Asian military balance and their implications for Asia and the United States. Fisher has worked on Asian security matters for over 20 years in a range of critical positions — as Asian Studies Director at the Heritage Foundation, Senior Analyst for Chairman Chris Cox’s Policy Committee in support of the report of the Select Committee for US National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People’s Republic of China, and a consultant on PLA issues for the Congressionally chartered US China Security & Economic Review Commission. The author of nearly 200 studies on challenges to American security, economic and foreign policy in Asia, Fisher is a frequent commentator on Asian issues for radio and television and has testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House International Relations Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and the U.S. China Security Commission, on the modernization of China’s military. Fisher has been Editor of the Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief, and a regular contributor to publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Far Eastern Economic Review, Jane’s Intelligence Review, National Interest, Air Forces Monthly, and World Airpower Journal.

    Too bad Fisher strayed too far from what he knows something about.

    If anybody here has direct personal experience with Fisher, or the “International Assessment and Strategy Center”, please share what you know.

    - Nemo2

  • We should expect this type of argument going forward. Those not wishing to give up the Shuttle — for whatever valid or invalid, emotional or logical reason — will present every argument they can to retain the vehicle. The Shuttle has four decades of mythology and dreams behind it, and it will be very difficult for the nation to give up. Advocates for the Shuttle are very unlikely to succeed, but if they did it would be a financial and political disaster to the future of human spaceflight by the United States’ government. In no likely budgetary scenario is it likely that the nation could afford the Shuttle while also developing something new.

    – Donald

  • Charles in Houston

    Fellow News Enthusiasts -

    This flimsy argument certainly shows that the the author (and maybe the IASC as well) knows nothing about capabilities of the Space Shuttle, nothing about orbital mechanics, nothing about a lot of stuff.

    It makes you wonder what, if anything, they might understand.

    I would not take this as evidence that Mr Fisher understands anything about China, as well or what they possibly could do with the technology they have shown. He certainly does not understand the concept of applying common sense to what he says.

    Also, the Wall Street Journal should have asked someone to look junk like this over, and they could have killed it before it made them look dumb. Too late now.

    I sure hope we don’t start basing decisions on what we do today – on what a possible adversary might start to do, one day. If they develop the technology and if they get the money and if…

    Charles

  • Allen Thomson

    “A larger unmanned space plane based on the Shenlong could easily be designed to carry out precision ground-attack missions at speeds and at altitudes that would avoid interception.”

    Even by THAAD, SM-3, GBI ?

    It’s a little hard to be sure what kinds of bats are flitting around in Mr. Fisher’s belfry, but a Chinese space plane with ground attack capabilities should be fairly far down on the list of things that keep us awake at night.

  • David Kovalchik

    “We should expect this type of argument going forward. Those not wishing to give up the Shuttle — for whatever valid or invalid, emotional or logical reason — will present every argument they can to retain the vehicle.”

    You’re actually misunderstanding where Fisher comes from. Look at his bio. He helped write the 1998 Cox Report. That report was notoriously filled with errors (they got facts about the US space program wrong, even though NASA HQ is located within walking distance of Capitol Hill–all they needed to do was call.)

    Fisher is a military hawk. He has little knowledge about military space and no knowledge about civilian space and does not understand the difference between them. He also probably doesn’t care. He certainly doesn’t care enough to actually try and learn the difference. In the 1990s the classic example of this was Frank Gaffney at the Center for Security Policy, but one hardly ever hears from him anymore.

    Fisher is also anti-China. So he sees that China has started work on a spaceplane, he automatically assumes that this is good for them and bad for the United States, and then decides that the United States needs to respond in some manner to “deter” the Chinese.

    But given the US experience with space shuttles, the proper American response should be to encourage China to build one. Build a bunch, actually. Go for broke. Go broke.

  • Al Fansome

    KOVALCHIK: But given the US experience with space shuttles, the proper American response should be to encourage China to build one. Build a bunch, actually. Go for broke. Go broke.

    Obviously, the Chinese see how awful the NASA space shuttle turned out, and will not repeat that error. The Russians started copying the U.S. (it was called Buran) and then cancelled it in the late 1980s soon after the Challenger accident.

    The Chinese also know how to learn from mistakes.

    We should not blindly assume that because they are building a “spaceplane” that they will repeat the mistakes of NASA. That is assuming the competition is stupid.

    I recommend we assume they are smart. There are many many ways to build a reusable spaceplane that does not repeat NASA’s mistakes with the Shuttle. Some of these new spaceplane approaches are being worked on right now — here in the U.S. (Or do you assume that all of these new U.S. efforts will repeat the errors of NASA too?)

    - Al

  • Although Fisher’s ground attack and Shuttle deterrent comments in the WSJ article are ridiculously goofy, his first IASC article is worth reading (add http://www) for the photos and analysis:

    .strategycenter.net/research/pubID.174/pub_detail.asp

    Fisher analysis is much more reasonable and restrained in that article. He states:

    “The photo made available on Chinese military issue Internet sites on December 11 shows a small rocket powered aircraft suspended beneath the fuselage of a Xian H-6 bomber. The small aircraft has a black underside consistent with heat-shielding necessary for re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere from space. This would indicate that Shenlong is meant to be a reusable space craft… The new aircraft seen on December 11 does not appear to have a vertical stabilizer or wing-tip stabilizers, which would be necessary for stability, but a subsequent Chinese-Internet released photo indicates this aircraft may have a large vertical stabilizer that will require a different carriage method for the H-6 bomber. The absence of a stabilizer for the December 11 aircraft raises the possibility that its main purpose may be to test its aerodynamic compatibility with the bomber, and that it may not be the version that is launched into space…

    Even if launched from a new H-6K bomber, which reportedly will be powered by Russian D-30K turbofans and capable of higher launch altitudes, the Shenlong does not appear to be large enough to reach sustained Low Earth Orbit (LEO) flight. As such, it may only be capable of short-duration LEO flight over Chinese territory, which would be consistent with a technology test and validation mission… The initial photo of the Shenlong does not indicate that it can carry a payload other than its motor, liquid fuel and its guidance system. That said, the Shenlong is broadly similar to U.S. and other unmanned space planes designed to test new technologies. These would include the U.S. Orbital Sciences X-34, Boeing X-37 and Japan’s HOPE-X. A larger version presumably would be able to carry a payload and be capable of sustained LEO flight.”

    This is an interesting development — that China is basically at the same captive carry/runway stage of testing a small, air-launched RLV as the U.S. X-37 project. And it’s backed by photographic evidence.

    To me, this demonstrates the folly of obsessing over a non-existent Chinese human lunar program. China is pursuing much more interesting and advanced capabilities — some of which could really challenge U.S. military dominance in Earth orbit over the long-run — and that’s what we need to keep our eyes on.

    Fisher’s WSJ article is probably too overblown and misdirected to lead to anything good, but hopefully this spurs additional funding and support for ORS, FALCON, FAST, etc.

    FWIW…

  • Al Fansome

    ANON: To me, this demonstrates the folly of obsessing over a non-existent Chinese human lunar program. China is pursuing much more interesting and advanced capabilities — some of which could really challenge U.S. military dominance in Earth orbit over the long-run — and that’s what we need to keep our eyes on.

    Anon,

    I 100% agree.

    - Al

  • Charles in Houston

    Space Exploration Enthusiasts -

    Return with me, if you will, to what the original post appears to have been about: how some overheated speculation about Chinese capability might influence US spending. Perhaps this might whip up some paranoia about potential Chinese capability (what they might be able to do in ten years) and how we could “counter” that.

    Of course the author, of dubious research ability, appears to have missed the entire US missile defense program. Billions of dollars have been spent, lots of concrete poured, international tensions appear to have been raised, and the author (and the Wall Street Journal) appear to have been looking the other way.

    The author proposed to keep the Space Shuttle flying to counter a potential Chinese capability that will still be in development some five years after the logical Shuttle retirement date (logical to me being about 2015 or so).

    OK, where am I going?

    Anon said “To me, this demonstrates the folly of obsessing over a non-existent Chinese human lunar program. China is pursuing much more interesting and advanced capabilities — some of which could really challenge U.S. military dominance in Earth orbit over the long-run — and that’s what we need to keep our eyes on.

    Fisher’s WSJ article is probably too overblown and misdirected to lead to anything good, but hopefully this spurs additional funding and support for ORS, FALCON, FAST, etc.”

    But I would worry that any actual funding increase would go to missile defense (a program I am quite skeptical of) or possibly to revive the US ASAT capability (which when I worked on it was pretty neat if scary).

    China’s program appears to be more a follow on of the US ASSET or PRIME research. This would easily be countered (if that was necessary) by a simple antisatellite program.

    Hopefully we will not determine our program priorities by some interesting research being done in China. Especially when the Chinese have recently demonstrated their own ASAT, and our allies in Russia could easily revive their own, similar ASAT program.

    The Celestial Eagle is still flying (in the Florida Air National Guard) but I hope we don’t reconsitute that program.

    Charles

  • Al Fansome

    It appears that Lou Dobbs, of CNN, has picked up the Chinese military space plane story. Last night — while he was covering the Iowa Caucuses — Dobbs discussed it twice.

    If Dobbs track record is any indication, he will not drop this issue any time soon.

    Too bad that Mike Griffin’s NASA does not have an agenda to develop American RLVs — and an architecture that was founded on CATS — he could authentically argue that giving more money to NASA would benefit U.S. national security.

    For those who care about increasing our national investments in “space frontier enabling” technologies, and opening the space frontier, I recommend that they figure out how to take advantage of this REAL national security issue. If they happen to have connections to a presidential campaign — I think this is a real opportunity.

    Following is the CNN transcript of the Dobbs discussion last night. Note how Dobbs is challenging the politicians — in both parties — to do something about it.

    - Al

    “Politics is not rocket science, which is why rockets scientists don’t understand politics”

    http://edition.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0801/03/ldt.01.html

    DOBBS: The presidential candidates of both political parties have all but ignored communist China’s rising military and economic challenge to the United States. Communist China has now launched an aggressive military buildup, a buildup that in part is designed to challenge U.S. military dominance in space. Christine Romans has our report.

    (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

    CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This picture surfacing on the Internet last month may be of a new Chinese space plane. In an op-ed in “The Wall Street Journal” Asia edition, defense expert Richard Fisher says if legitimate it is evidence that Chinese engineers may be much farther along the previously thought in developing a military space plane. China has already put a man in space but he says the Chinese have long aspired to a space plane for many reasons.

    RICHARD FISHER, INTL ASSESSMENT AND STRATEGY CTR.: For the conduct of active military missions such as attacking targets on earth or in space and for the conduct of passive missions such as launching small satellites or even launching missiles that would attack enemy satellites. ROMANS: Chinese military ambitions in space have become clear over the past year and a half. China has blinded a U.S. reconnaissance satellite with a ground based laser. It destroyed one of its own weather satellites with an anti-satellite missile, a critical milestone, experts say, since most American military communications rely on satellites. The bipartisan U.S./China Economic and Security Review Commission recently warned of these ominous projections of power.

    CAROLYN BARTHOLOMEW, U.S. CHINA COMMISSION: If they can wipe out one of our satellites which they have demonstrated that they could do, they could take down the communications that are essential to our ability to fight a war.

    ROMANS: But the view in Washington is that trade with China is a force for democracy in the world’s largest and richest communist nation. Chinese officials have consistently said they favor peace and stability.

    (END VIDEOTAPE)

    ROMANS: Chinese officials have not publicly commented on the country’s space ambitions and U.S. defense officials have urged the Chinese to be more transparent about their military spending and their plan, most recently complaining about China’s refusal to allow the USS Kitty Hawk to visit Hong Kong.

    DOBBS: Total of nine ships not permitted to go into port in China and this administration completing in its final year in office, the absurdity that’s been its foreign policy in the case of China, actually funding that military buildup with just — it’s a mounting trade deficit with China. I love the fact (INAUDIBLE) is appreciating the Chinese are allowing it to appreciate and under the heading, be careful what you ask for, Treasury Secretary Paulson, we’re going to see more expensive Chinese imports into this country. So they’re doing just about everything wrong one could possibly imagine.

    ROMANS: Richard Fisher says the fact that our trade deficits have fueled so much of this military build-up and there’s so much money to spend shows that there is a lot of consistent hard work being put to its military use with American dollars.

    DOBBS: I don’t know which is worse in the greatest measure in this administration, its arrogance, its ignorance or its indifference to the welfare of the American people. But in any case, it’s a close race across all three failings. Thank you very much, Christine Romans.

    One of the world’s leading authorities on communist China’s aggressive military build up is Gordon Chang. He will be joining us here later in the broadcast.

    (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

    DOBBS: There’s compelling new evidence tonight that communist China is developing what is called a space bomber as part of its massive military buildup. It’s the latest indication of China’s rising threat and challenge to the United States. According to Gordon Chang, a leading authority on China, President Hu Jintao is shifting China in a new direction against U.S. interests globally. Gordon Chang is also the author of “The Coming Collapse of China.” Joining us here now, Gordon, you also wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal this week challenging the orthodoxy of many on the commercial side. Are commercial interests simply on the part of this nation overwhelming foreign policy and national security considerations?

    GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, “COMING COLLAPSE OF CHINA”: You have to believe that’s the case. You see all of these attempts to pre-approve Chinese companies. Import U.S. technology without approvals. This is just incredible because these Chinese companies take the technology and transfer it to the Chinese military. The Chinese military turns around and sends it to places in North Korea, Iran and Syria. This is terrible policy on our part.

    DOBBS: It’s a terrible policy but a continuation and an acceleration of what the Bush administration has put in place. And before it, the Clinton administration in point of fact. The idea that six months ago further controls are removed, allowing duel use technology to be moved from the United States to communist China. What in the world is going on?

    CHANG: This is ludicrous. We can’t prevent the Chinese from stealing U.S. technology in the U.S. You know, how are we going to prevent the Chinese when our technology is already in Chinese hands in China? You know the Bush administration is not protecting the United States because it’s failing to exercise common sense.

    DOBBS: In my judgment its constitutional responsibility which is to protect the national interest and provide for the safety of the American people. But this administration is in disregard of another of tenants of responsibility in the part of leadership. What in the world should we see this administration do? What is — is there an answer that is straightforward that could be effective in terms of U.S./China policy?

    CHANG: I think the first thing we have to do is hold China to account. Everyone says we need to integrate China into the international community. As we do that, China is permitted to do all sorts of bad things. Washington doesn’t say anything, from trade, defense to every relationship.

    DOBBS: In neither house of congress nor the part of the white house. Why, in your judgment are none of the political presidential candidates seeking their parties’ nomination, democratic or republican, addressing these issues?

    CHANG: You’re right. This has been a bipartisan failure, Bush administration, Clinton administration and administrations before that. And I think largely because they see sort of this economic relationship with China as preempting everything else including the security concerns of out country.

    DOBBS: Gordon Chang, thank you very much.

  • Vladislaw

    Cost of a plywood mock up, 200 bucks
    Cost of a digital camera to take the picture, 100 bucks
    Cost to the United States to “take the lead away from china” in space planes?

  • Charles in Houston

    Fellow Fans Of China (sorry for the poor pun) -

    OK, so now Lou Dobbs, fear monger extraordinaire, grabs this poorly researched article to attract more attention.

    And Lou drafts Christine Romans who drags in some other person who clearly does not understand orbital mechanics, satellite capability, or anything else that is useful.

    This new woman, Carolyn Bartholemew, squeaks about the threat to our communications:

    “CAROLYN BARTHOLOMEW, U.S. CHINA COMMISSION: If they can wipe out one of our satellites which they have demonstrated that they could do, they could take down the communications that are essential to our ability to fight a war.”

    Thereby demonstrating that Carolyn did not do her research and find out that a direct ascent interceptor (on a sub orbital trajectory) would have a hard time reaching our geosychronous communications satellites.

    This story amply demonstrates that people can more easily get on TV than they can get through a undergraduate orbital mechanics class.

    We should not let those people influence our spending priorities.

    Charles

  • Nemo2

    VADISLAW: Cost of a plywood mock up, 200 bucks
    Cost of a digital camera to take the picture, 100 bucks
    Cost to the United States to “take the lead away from china” in space planes?

    Vadislaw,

    Are you a U.S. citizen?

    To respond to your question — The cost to take the lead away from china in space planes is a LOT less than you think. It requires “smart policy” in how we spend the money in our existing agencies, and to encourage partnerships with U.S. private industry to develop this “dual use” technology.

    NASA can help by choosing an exploration “architecture” that is built around the existence of spaceplanes too. Strategically, this would be a much better use of the billions per year being spent in ESMD.

    - Nemo2

  • Nemo2

    CHARLES said:

    We should not let those people influence our spending priorities.

    You don’t want to let the 5th estate (the media) influence our spending priorities?

    and how do you propose to accomplish that, without pulling a Putin?

    - Nemo2

  • “Cost of a plywood mock up, 200 bucks
    Cost of a digital camera to take the picture, 100 bucks
    Cost to the United States to “take the lead away from china” in space planes?”

    Vladislaw makes a good point here. The vehicle may only be at the mock-up stage (where Orion is now), which would put it some few years behind X-37.

    Or the photo may even be faked. But assuming it’s not, even a mock-up is interesting in that it shows that China is working on such a vehicle and may not be that far behind the U.S.

    “But I would worry that any actual funding increase would go to missile defense (a program I am quite skeptical of) or possibly to revive the US ASAT capability (which when I worked on it was pretty neat if scary).”

    Agreed. Like China’s ICBM-based ASAT tests, I would guess that Shenlong is an asymmetric attempt to establish a new strategic space threat now that the threat posed by China’s small nuclear arsenal will be effectively neutered by U.S. missile defense in the coming years. (This assumes, of course, that Shenlong is aimed at establishing an operational military capability and is not just a technology sandbox.)

    If it does come to fruition, the best way to counter such a capability would not be with more missile defense (not relevant) or with destructive ASAT capabilities (debris would hurt U.S. space assets more than China). Non-destructive, and ideally reversible, ASAT capabilities (electromagnetic jamming and/or parasitic satellites) and responsive space capabilities (rapid launch and checkout of satellites to quickly replenish disabled assets) are what’s really called for. And again, hopefully the latter would result in more funding for FALCON, FAST, and ORS.

    (I’m jealous that you worked on the F-15/ASM-135 ASAT. That was a cool program.)

    “This would easily be countered (if that was necessary) by a simple antisatellite program.”

    I dunno about simple versus complex, but it should non-destructive and, ideally, reversible.

    “The Celestial Eagle is still flying (in the Florida Air National Guard) but I hope we don’t reconsitute that program.”

    It’s been dead since the late 80s and experienced something like a ten-fold cost overrun, so I very much doubt it. But regardless, with new alternatives available, we should not go down the same destructive ASAT path. We’ll just shoot our own space assets in the foot.

    FWIW…

  • Joe Smith

    I understand Lou Dobbs is going to report tonight on a shocking new development regarding the Chinese military space plane that demonstrates how insidious a threat it is to national security. You see, in addition to crippling American satellites, it can circumvent border security to deliver on U.S. territory… illegal immigrants.

    (I’m kidding. I think. But with Dobbs, you never know.)

  • DARKSIDIUS

    I agre with this article,

    Keep your eyes on China because its possible they work so hard to make military space capabilities. They works hard and very fast, in few years they can dominate space orbits with new kind of weapons. We must make a new space plane capability, not the space shuttle its obsolète, but new hypersonic plane with space capabilities it must be less expensive than the shuttle.

  • Vladislaw

    Nemo, I am an american, fourth generation germanic barbarian. And this has what to do with my statement? You mentioned “smart policy” isn’t that an oximoron like “military intelligence” ? To me it looks like the classic “fear factor funding” ploy. “they have it, might have it, are thinking about it, so we should too!”

    The world’s militaries are not as creative, or do not have the checkbook the USA has. If you look at history, the USA is USUALLY the first with something, nukes, nuclear powered subs, sub launched nukes, et cetera and the rest of the world is only trying to do what the USA ALREADY has done. China did an Anti sat test and the world screams, but the USA has already conducted ours 25 YEARS before that.

    China took a PICTURE of SOMETHING hanging under a plane and now they are minutes away from bombing us with SPACE BOMBERS? Hell they could load an astronaut capsule with a nuke and “bomb” us with that, they would not need a plane. If a country has LEO launch capability ALL the delivery methods are a moot point because they ALREADY have the ability to drop stuff on us.

    My point being, lets not rush off with BILLIONS and BILLIONS of dollars for systems and studies for items that does NOT put HUMANS into space.

    There is only ONE cargo that is an enabler, that is the human cargo. 100 planetary launches a year is not going to increase flight rates! Only a human cargo can give us the flight rates we need to lower costs. So I would hate to see a limited budget get side tracked into avenues we do not need to explore for now.

    We have Blackhorse, when they have it, we can start to worry.

    Anon.Space, thanks for seeing the point.

  • Al Fansome

    VADISLAW: My point being, lets not rush off with BILLIONS and BILLIONS of dollars for systems and studies for items that does NOT put HUMANS into space.

    Vadislaw,

    I get the feeling that you and Nemo2 are talking past each other — and are not really that far apart.

    One of the benefits of true reusable space planes is MUCH higher degrees of reliability and safety, simultaneously with much lower marginal costs/flight, as compared to traditional ELV systems.

    If we truly want to put lots of humans into space, this is exactly what we need — much higher reliability/safety and much lower cost/flight.

    Is it easy? Not by any means. Is it what we need? You betcha.

    IMO, the Kennedy-esque space speech of our generation would be a challenge to develop this transformational capability.

    BTW, I totally agree with you that we do should not spend “billions and billions” on studies. I also believe (and maybe you will agree) that “traditional” approaches to developing space planes (e.g., one big central government program, like NASP) is a recipe for failure also, as it drives you to picking one cost-plus contractor who will happily spend tens-of-billions in taxpayer funds, put little or no private capital at risk, almost certainly have a conflict-of-interest (as Lockheed Martin did on the X-33 program) and probably fail in the end because they are not truly motivated to succeed.

    FWIW,

    - Al

  • Vladislaw

    “Is it easy? Not by any means.”

    Where is the “NOT EASY” part of creating a reusable “POP & DROP” space plane?

    Heat Shield Technology:
    Landing Gear Technology:
    Propulsion Technology:
    MicroMeteorite Shield Technology:
    Life Support Technology:
    Avionics Technology:
    Power Generation Technology:

    Dyna Soar, HL 20, HL42, Blackhorse. I think all of these were doable. If not already been produced as a testbed “BLACK PROJECT” done off the books. The literally THOUSANDS of high altitude contrails going towards space seen off the coast of california are either UFO’s piloted by aliens, the government doing cloud seeding or some other conspiracy theory OR the government has already built something and has been testing it for 10 years.
    Burt Rutan said something when he did a speech at the TEDS, on how Scaled Composites had produced a plane or “other project he can’t talk about” every year. It would mean he has did at least 6-10 “black projects” that have never seen the light of day.
    To me it is hardly a coincedence that he was the winner of the Xprize. The military wants a suborbital plane for the modern war fighter. The military has a long established history of being 10 years ahead of what is commercially available. The military also has a long history of wanting something that is to expensive so it has to be inserted into the commercial sector so they can buy it “off the shelf” at a cheaper price AND it is now seen as a “common product” and not something exotic.
    If suborbital flights become common it will be NOTHING out of the “ordinary” if the military then has them also. So how do we make them common and ordinary? We have the company that has historically built craft for the government to win the x prize and start selling them commerically so the airforce can then put in an order for suborbital craft and not raise any eyebrows.
    You have to remember that space has been considered the “property” of the USA and Russian government programs for 50 years. Those institutions have created laws and policies to ACTIVELY stop private commericalization of space right up to the Xprize. You realize that the Xprize WITHOUT United States sanctioning it was ILLEGAL? So why the change to make it legal? For me, obviously it was the military, ALL the technologies needed to make it happen are now commerically available. TRL is at 8-9 for all the components needed to create them. The military puts a bug into someone’s ear and suddenly we have the Xprize and it sails through congress to allow private commercialization and Scaled Composites sails through the competition and wins it. Now we have suborbital space tourism which was vital for the military to have in place FIRST in order for them to get suborbital fighters for the modern war fighter. Of course this is ALL just MY personal opinion.

  • Vladislaw

    Al, you should give this document a read through, offers some insights into what I was talking about.

    http://www.gao.gov/archive/1999/ns991620.pdf

  • Al Fansome

    Vladislaw,

    Thank you for the reference, but maybe I am a little dense. What does this generic document on “best practice research” on technology readiness in program development have to do with your claims that:

    The literally THOUSANDS of high altitude contrails going towards space seen off the coast of california are either UFO’s piloted by aliens, the government doing cloud seeding or some other conspiracy theory OR the government has already built something and has been testing it for 10 years.

    AND

    The military puts a bug into someone’s ear and suddenly we have the Xprize and it sails through congress to allow private commercialization and Scaled Composites sails through the competition and wins it.

    Nobody of any credibility in the commercial RLV industry has claimed that they needed new technology to build a Mach 3-4 RLV. In fact the opposite — it has been common knowledge in the industry, for many years, that zero new technology was required for Mach 3-4 RLV.

    In fact, we can develop a TSTO Mach 25 RLV using all existing technology — so a Mach 3-4 RLV is a no-brainer from the *technology* readiness front.

    The core reason Burt succeeded is not that the had the technology (which he did), as many others had it too.

    The primary reason he succeeded is because he had Paul Allen’s money. There are many others who would have succeeded too, with Paul Allen and his money behind them.

    That said, thanks for reminding me of this GAO report. I read it years ago, and forgot about it.

    - Al

  • To me it is hardly a coincedence that he was the winner of the Xprize.

    No, it is no coincidence. He won the X-Prize because he alone received more than adequate funding with which to do so. There were many other people who could have done so, given the funding. Burt is not God.

  • Vladislaw

    Al, Because in that document they identify problems and solutions to how to move technology. This was first started in 1995-96, finished and presented in 1999. Peter first started talking about an Xprize in late 95′ adopted from the SPACECUB project. So I was suggesting that there was a connection in timing. The document talks about how you use commerical interests to mature technology FASTER then if the maturing process takes place ONLY through a government program.

    So for me it looks like the government decided that maturing for a suborbital craft would happen faster in the commercial sphere then in a purely military sphere were everything has to go through so many hoops and funding cycles that it is less efficient to do it as a military project and you eliminate the “guns in space” arguement that happens EVERYTIME the military talks about space assets.

    The point about the contrails is that nobody is owning up to them or their creation so we are left with who is making them. Personally, for me, I rule out aliens and believe that as you say the technology is already there for suborbital and so the government must be responsible for their creation.

    Okay, I have this GREAT idea for a suborbital craft and I take my idea into the market for capital and the first billionaire asks me “so have you ever built ANYTHING REMOTELY like this before?” .. MY answer would be a toe of my shoe scuffling in the dirt, my head hung down and some whispered stammerings of “ah .. well ah .. you see ah… gosh.. ah .. no i haven’t ever built anything like this before”

    But that same billionaire asking burt rutan if he has built something like this would probably be “Yes I worked on X, X, and X.”

    Even though there were other “qualified” people who could have did something suborbitally Rutan was probably the only one who already HAD worked on something suborbitally. So that is why I say it was no surprise he won it and that he got the most funding.

    hope this clears up my meanings.

  • Vladislaw

    Rand,
    I was not suggesting that Burt is the Second Coming of Christ. But Paul Allen could have chosen to fund ANYONE and EVERYONE for the xprize.
    He didn’t, he chose Scaled Composites. So it begs the question, WHY?
    As I stated earlier, I believe Allen chose Scaled because of their history. I also stated the fact about contrails and that scaled should be considered a “usual suspect” considering what Rutan has already done and stated.

    So again, it isn’t about cult of personality, technology, or funding but just what IS the “driver” bringing the sudden change. I am suggesting that it is the military need for a suborbital craft that doesn’t need permission from another country to use airspace, which I personally feel is LONG over due for our military and the modern war fighter.

  • ...

    That’s as stupid as Boeing doing this.

  • Vladislaw

    what exactly is “that’s” all boeing did was file a patent, they never put it into production. Did someone just file a “stupid” patent?

  • ...

    Ever hear of Blackstar? What’s really stupid is using 70% of your fuel and oxidizer load for lift and 30% toward the delta v required for orbit like the “stick” does.

  • TLE

    The ‘stick’ doesn’t do anything yet, and besides, it’s just a booster.

    I kind of like those lofted high acceleration profiles, you get up into the good view very quickly, while accelerations are still quite low, so you get to enjoy the ride. Operationally and developmentally, spaceplanes are just too complicated and expensive, when we all know there is little or no real justification for manned spaceflight anymore. Attaching ‘value’ to manned spaceflight is the only way you are going to keep it going in the future.

    That’s going to require drama on an almost weekly basis.

  • Vladislaw

    TLE,
    I wonder, when the dinosaurs saw the asteroid ready to slam into the earth and exterminate everything, thought “gosh, maybe we should have put our DNA another another planetary body in case this happened”

  • gm

    2.5 years ago I’ve already predicted that China will build Spaceplanes in this (September 15, 2005) article: www + gaetanomarano.it/spaceShuttle/spaceshuttle.html
    just click to enlarge the funny image of the “Shenzhou 235″ at the end of the article… :) :) :)

  • Ever hear of Blackstar?

    Yeah. Ever see it?

  • RD Fisher

    While it lasts, here is an update on China’s space plane ambitions:

    http://www.janes.com/article/28083/chinese-us-russian-shuttle-concepts-suggest-start-of-three-way-space-race

    Reusable space plane program was affirmed during the 64th IAC in Beijing.

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