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China and Russia Challenging the Space Leadership of the United States


© By Charles P. Vick, 2005-6, All Rights Reserved

Senior Fellow, Space Defense policy

10-25-05 update 04-21-06


By understanding the past historic mistakes in analysis of space developments helps to correctly analyze future events in the competitive space technology arena. In yet another case of the US , Central Intelligence Agency, (CIA) failure to recognize what is going in the world around them has been revealed due to recent developments in Chinese and the Russian space programs. This is not the first time that the CIA did not correctly interpret the politically charged “technological surprise” space developments. It is exemplified both by the “Sputnik” of 1957 and its subsequent failures in analysis during the 1960’s “Cold War” lunar race. Using their so called “conservative approach” they politicized the intelligence to fit the political agenda desired both at the agency level and for the political leadership denying overwhelming, irrefutable evidence that was correct from the US military intelligence community which was at variance with the CIA’s views.

With much more left to be declassified and admittedly based on circumstantial evidence, this analyst has been left with the sinking suspicion that this area of analysis of the agency’s work was fully penetrated by a mole at the time. However, I am told it was a “meticulous failure” in its “sources and methodology” errors rather than a spy in its midst that invariable led to accepting the wrong evidence as valid. We must remember that analysis is not devoid of political influence because policy is dependent on analysis of intelligence to develop policy and further policy must compel intelligence to be specific about what it does not know.

It must also be accepted that the final answer to analysis is a political answer regardless of the analysis resulting conclusions. An example of this can be seen in this sitting administration, which was probably once again warned several years ago about China’s space intentions. Yet it has purposely said little or nothing about China while attempting to change the direction of US space activity. Well its response is too late and too little creating some wrong design decisions repeat the dangerous mistakes of the past, launch vehicles designs. Those designs are already in serious technical and budget trouble which are unacceptable for human spaceflight. This is because we will pay dearly for it down the road if they are not dropped and replaced by an improved proven design already perfected and paid for by the US citizenry IE: Saturn-V not shuttle based hardware.

Recent Russian Events

There have been recent commercial discussions by the S. P. Korolev Corporation of Korolev, Moscow region for a proposed 2008-2010 human circumlunar mission utilizing one Proton-K and one Soyuz booster with a Soyuz/Zond-TMA spacecraft. This is an entirely feasible operationally available approach. Although a dead end program that should go forward with international cooperation. The same company has also proposed a human lunar landing program that would utilize nine launches in total over three months in groups of three. This would use eight Protons and one Soyuz booster with a Soyuz/Zond-TMA spacecraft, for the years 2010-2012-2014. Both missions are equally revealing cost wise for being based on Western funded inventive marketing?

Chinese Developments

The recent Chinese developments and the already declared Chinese commitment to the development of their Shenzhou program, a three human crew Soyuz/Zond heritage larger spacecraft, along with an initial rudimentary space station to be followed by the more developed Salyut class space station strongly suggest that China harbors its own human lunar aspirations. The circumstantial evidence continues to mount that China is indeed planning on human crewed lunar circumnavigation program as well as eventual lunar orbit capability and perhaps a human lunar landings and lunar base program before the US will be able to fully respond. The absence of evidence on this does not mean something is not happening. It can be quite to the contrary and more often than not it should be a red flag warning that something is indeed going on.

The Russians who have provided help to the Chinese for pay in their strategic missile and space programs and this manned program have clearly indicated that China will seek a separate space station program of their own in spite of the high economic cost that has given the Chinese leadership some pause. According to the Chinese forecast planning it is scheduled to appear in rudimentary form some time in the years 2009-2010 or the beginning of the following five year plan starting on January 1, 2011 and it will be completely independent of the International Space Station (ISS).

Russian Commercial Program Policy Issues

There is a real possibility of a joint lunar science package effort here for a lunar polar circumnavigation manned mission. At least only one Proton with Bloc-D is involved with the EOR earth orbital rendezvous Soyuz launched Soyuz/Zond-TMA spacecraft mission. Such a mission is both possible but a dead end project that should be completed by Russia through international cooperation. It does offer a potential lunar polar orbit science package possibility that might be considered if it were an international cooperative mission. However it has become quite clear that this is not a State sponsored program mission only a commercial one that will not be opposed by the Federal Space Agency. This bringing into serious question whether this will ever happen. That is regrettable because it would offer the opportunity for the US government to use incentives for a joint effort with potential benefit to both nations as a cooperative program before China does it for itself.

Does Russia , ie President Vladimir Putin, desire to be upstaged by China in a similar mission several years later when they could accomplish a prestigious precedent setting mission with their own effort as a cooperative program with the ISS partners? This analyst does not think Russia would settle well with being third to any nation. Especially, when through cooperation with the ISS partners and especially the US the Russians could indeed recover much pride, and vindicate the late S. P. Korolev’s legacy. To do this successfully under a democratic republic government would indeed leave a serious geopolitical message that other authoritarian systems are not the way to get the job done that even the Russian themselves would indeed understand from their initial failed experience.

The US government including NASA should think long and hard about this potential coup over China that could knock the pins out from under their up staging planning, that is if we are smart enough to do this. This analyst for one does not desire to put up with China sticking it to us when we are down and unable to respond. This could also serve as one hell of an incentive to persuade Russian on its conventional weapons dealings with Iran . This manned lunar circumnavigation effort offers real possibilities the US can not afford to let go to waste.

The Russian human lunar landing program

This Russian human lunar landing program really takes us back to late CRS/SP Chief, Dr. Charles S. Sheldon's II arguments in 1967 for a heavy lift “J” vehicle over many Proton & Soyuz launches for the former Soviet Unions, manned lunar effort. The human lunar landing project would utilize over half the potential Proton production per year with the assumption the launch facilities are available and that there would be no failures all along the way. Russia has never run that kind of quality control effort on that scale. It looks as if the manned lunar landing mission is three months of three launch campaigns involving nine launches in total through an Earth orbital and lunar orbital rendezvous missions plan. The Russian human lunar landing program would operate as follows:

1. The first three launches involve two fully fueled Bloc-D's on two separate Proton launches and then a third Proton launch with a partially fueled Lunar Kabina (LK) of a design different from the original Soviet LK similar to the model seen in the Energiya museum. All the spacecraft are to be assembled through earth orbital rendezvous for lunar orbit insertion.

2. The next month’s second three launches utilizes two more Proton launched Bloc-D's assembled in Earth orbit and a third Proton launch possible with a Bloc-M fuel tanker to fuel the LK in lunar orbit again all assembled in earth orbit to place the tanker into lunar orbit and docking with the LKm to load the propellants.

3. The third months final three launches again involve two Proton launched Bloc-D's with the third launch possible on a standard Soyuz or a Soyuz-2/RUS booster with a Soyuz/Zond-TMA modified spacecraft possible also utilizing the Ikar stage again assembled in Earth orbit to place in lunar orbit the Soyuz/Zond-TMA spacecraft for rendezvous and docking with the now fully fueled LKm. Soyuz/Zond-TMA does the return TEI burn with a double dip reentry like Zond program did accomplish.

NO wonder the EELV options are not being considered by NASA's for the lunar return designs. To this analyst this is dangerous to assume that all of these Protons, amounting to nearly a year’s production would work with out some failure. Especially given Russian quality control practices, this plan does not seem to be a real world scenario. The problem is how to do the end to end flight tests for this scenario as well as to meet the end to end quality control requirements and ground testing requirements makes this seems unrealistic. Russia needs a heavy lift booster like Nl-L3m not Energiya. Korolev and Mishin were right in rejecting such an approach. Does the FSA really consider this to be real? That is doubtful. But the lunar circumnavigation mission would place them in the game cooperatively.

Follow the Money?

A total of $200 million has been requested or $100 million per passenger is being floated to do a commercial human lunar circumnavigation mission with two passengers and one Russian flight commander the manned lunar landing effort would cost the customer much more. The customer must study the merchants asking price sales proposal verses what it may actually be negotiated for behind closed doors. The sales price and the negotiated price are two very different worlds. Of course the Russian government does not charge itself retail so this is curious as to what the real cost and profit will be and especially where it is to go?

The cost per passenger is $100 million. Based on open source information from the Federal Space Agency the Soyuz booster cost, plus Lunar Soyuz/Zond-TMA spacecraft cost is approximate $28.6 million. Then add the Proton cost about $75 to $98 million and the estimated training 1.5 million plus = roughly $105.10 - $128.1 million divided by the three crew persons = $35.3 - 42.7 million for the rough figures for the real individual person cost. Of course the retailer want the full price for consideration paid up front.

The spacecraft engineering modifications and the flight test, support makes it even more expensive to human rate the systems but that is the Russian government responsibility. With two passengers as a part of a three person crew the cost figures are $42.7 multiplied by 2 which equals $85.4 plus $2.4 million which equals $87.8 million. Using the $200 million mission retail price tag the company would make $112.2 million profit before considering other potential cost. Is this the R & D cost or what, Western money inventive marketing? Proton is of course right up there with the higher figures here. Also a individuals for a Soyuz flight would pay a cost of about $9.5 million plus training cost lets say $10 million per individual then two individual = $20 million. But the retailer wants the full price $20 million per individual passenger as advertised but one always considers that to be negotiable. This does not take into account the cost NASA is paying for the new Soyuz-TMA flights just contracted.

China ’s end Game?

China’s most recent second Shenzhou flight basically shows that China is taking the deliberately precisely preplanned basic technology steps to developing a human space fairing capability. It is basically demonstrating the previous capabilities already developed by the US and Russia . Equally China is emphasizing the use of the basic sciences to push the basic technologies to drive its national economy and its State mandated five year plan requirements. Once the flights of the Shenzhou - 7, 8, 9, & 10 are completed with their longer duration, docking, EVA and early rudimentary space station operations they will have achieved a basic operational capability allowing the planned expansion of the human program into its more developed Salyut class space station already approved by the State and probably preliminary humans lunar circumnavigation programs all well before 2015.

China having only completed its second human crewed mission does not yet place it in a position to compete with the established US, Russian and ESA capabilities. Though it could be said that it is acquiring the capability to eventually threaten competition but at this point they are not even in a comfortable operational mode only a research and development mode. With China only launching a human crewed mission only once a year or so certainly is far short of any kind of operational capability. This certainly indicated a stretched out materials, personnel allocation under funded budget program with other priorities being paid for future capability over the steady deliberately paced Shenzhou program.

These crewed launchings helps China ’s prestige perception to the rest of the world as a space fairing powers. However, until it signs and enforces the Missile Technology Control Regime and Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty it will continue to be stopped from launching US based satellites or US made satellite components placed in foreign satellites greatly reducing its commercial satellite launching opportunities. This is especially the case in the face of the known documented proliferation activity with Pakistan ’s, North Korea ’s as well as Iran ’s both nuclear and missile weapons of mass destruction systems. There is no way the United States is going to consider much less permit China to be a part of the ISS program as long as it continues to violate the Missile Technology Control Regime in spite of it having introduced new MTCR rules. To do otherwise would undermine the US position and capabilities.

Science & Technology Drivers of the Military Five Year Plans

Yes they are making advances for themselves but are still very much in the catch up mode to the science & technology (S & T) leaders of the World that are much more advanced in this arena . The military implications come from the S & T spin offs as well as the management of large S & T programs through systems engineering skills not previously accomplished by the Chinese. This especially applies in the management of information and it analysis through information technology with its applications to national security issues.

There are some strong implications that the human program is supporting the leading edge military intelligence program developments. The program seems to be leading to a space station that could serve as a man tended military intelligence platform but only time will tell on this issue. As they gain experience these systems could become primarily un-crewed near real time robotic platforms. As the Chinese gain experience and the technology they will be able to run such programs as does the US and Russia . They are years from being able to field a major threat to the US military dominance in space assets which will continue to be improved, provided the leadership makes the prudent decisions demanded.

These S & T programs took on special urgency after the technological surprise of the first Gulf War performance of the US strategic capability. This made China ’s military and leadership very uneasy because it became clear that it was and obvious weakness in their military which it has been in the process of compensating for ever since. When China observed the over whelming “information warfare” success of the US and its allies its aftermath had a severe impact on the Chinese military strength assessment. It clearly showed that they could be beaten with smaller numbers of forces in a very technology sophisticated way. That shook the Chinese military establishment. Since the State is the military and the military is the State something had to give quickly.

In the mean time the Chinese military began rattling its sabers due to the weakened position they found them selves in. So it is no surprise that they soon embraced and strongly supported the program 863 because of the potential spin-offs for national security purposes. Although the military saber rattling subsided when they began to understand the S & T involved and began to modernize their military to match the Western capabilities. Today they are still in a catch up mode for several five year plans to come before their conventional forces can come close to United States military prowess. While China progresses in its development the level of saber rattling with in the military will hopefully continue to subside as it gains confidence it does not have now because of the US, S & T dominance in strategic systems technologies. With knowledge comes a sobering understanding of ones standing in the world and to some extent, relative safety.

This also implies that the human space program serves a duel roll as both a propaganda platform to say that China is a world power, but also serves the purpose legitimization of regime leadership, to say to the Chinese people that look what we have achieved under their leadership, as a justification for their existence. That present leadership in China is relatively weak compared to the previous leadership. The technical accomplishment of manned spaceflight places China in a elite class, only the third nation on this planet to have successfully develop and operate an independent manned space program. This is in addition to its communication satellite, weather satellite and imaging reconnaissance satellite programs.

Should the present US administration and future administrations be concerned by the Chinese developing civil/military space capabilities? Why do you think the present Bush administration present occupiers of the Oval Office are pushing the Bush Space Initiative? It is because they are concerned about technological surprise i.e. being “Sputnik-ed“ by the Chinese in many area’s that is politically or militarily, technologically unacceptable.

Well its response is too late and too little creating some wrong design decisions repeat the dangerous mistakes of the past, launch vehicles designs. Those designs are already in serious technical and budget trouble which are unacceptable for human spaceflight. This is because we will pay dearly for it down the road if they are not dropped and replaced by an improved proven design already perfected IE: Saturn-V not shuttle based hardware technology.

Both Russia and China have their own military space agenda’s, especially human crewed lunar plans, the challenge of which the US is incapable of matching or exceeding right now. Thus Russia could accomplish a human lunar circumnavigation flight by 2008 through 2010 and a human lunar landing as early as 2012 and China is expected to do a un-crewed lunar circumnavigation flight as early as 2012 but more likely human lunar circumnavigation/orbital flight by 2014-2015 time frame at the latest. China perhaps could do a human lunar landing shortly before the US will be capable of responding around 2019-2021. Although this Chinese human crewed lunar landing last potential capability seems more remote right now as shall be explained.

One mission profile would use EOR through the LM-3B and the LM-2F/Shenzhou boosters some time after 2007 while the second mission profile uses a single launch by the Long March-5 (LM-5) booster not yet flight tested. The capability to do so with existing hardware or with hardware pending human flight test in this f ive year plan 2006-2010 is reasonably certain. This will give China at any time of its choosing the capability to do these two missions given the economic and political will. One day we may wake up and realize that with little warning that China has launched a precursor un-crewed earth orbital rendezvous (EOR) lunar circumnavigation mission to be followed by a human lunar circumnavigation mission soon afterwards. Once the LM-5 booster becomes operational in the middle of the next five year plan after 2011, the single launch circumnavigation mission becomes possible and the lunar orbital mission becomes possible through EOR. This is because the Shenzhou spacecraft has built in its design the capability for earth orbit and lunar orbital missions. It could with proper equipment also support a human lunar landing mission through EOR similar the present Russian mission concept.

Heavy Lift Saturn-V Booster Capability Prospects

China could also carry out the human lunar landing mission through the introduction of a new booster beyond the capability of the LM-5 series which they have only in the last few years hinted at through their 15-20 year forecast planning consideration requirements after the next five year plan. Such a 100 metric ton plus capacity Saturn-V class launch vehicle would only begin conceptual development around the middle of the 2011-2015 five year plan with introduction during middle of the following five year plan 2016-2020. This brings into question whether China will have a human lunar landing capability until the middle of the 2021-2025 five year plan. The demonstrated long lead time technology development requirement for Chinese new larger launch vehicle does not bode well for China to carry out its manned lunar landing aspirations that probably will slip considerable from the forecast planning schedule discussions not yet finalized. China has for the present chosen the robotic methods to accomplish their near term lunar goals.

China ’s Political & Space Program Leadership Decisions Making Considerations

It must be remembered that the Chinese leadership must consider the geopolitical and domestic impact on both the present revised human crewed earth orbital program planning verses the introduction of a new human lunar circumnavigation, and human lunar orbital capability still being perfected. The human lunar programs are essentially very close to being available in relative five year planning. That is if they choose to carry out such an effort sooner than later. The overall economic pacing of the human space program has apparently caused them to pause and consider why, when, and what they are going to do with this S & T program along with the economic of the program. They may also be considering the short term human lunar circumnavigation and human lunar orbital program and the long term human lunar landing potential geopolitical impact on the world stage implication in challenging the United States space prowess. So direct an early challenge of the United States space prowess with it ramifications of China ’s internal policies beliefs on the USA place in world history may not be desirable to the new Chinese leadership right now. They must also consider the obvious gap in timing between the human lunar circumnavigation and lunar orbital mission capabilities verses the much longer wait for the follow up human lunar landing mission capability. This has probably causing them to stretch these programs out for later introduction at least for this five year plan while still developing this capability. This has also probable slowed them down less it impact the already committed and revised human space programs prematurely while taking these potential capabilities into account for the next five year plan. Basically it comes down to a potential gap of a lot of up front human lunar space activity with no follow up human lunar landing performance the real end game that China will desire. So it is the geopolitical impact of an early challenge activity with its gains verses the long term gains end results desired. That is what are the Chinese projected intentions if these crewed lunar programs were to go forward earlier than later via a stretched out process? There is no doubt that China is doing its own thing with the human crewed program regardless of the geopolitical impact for its own domestic reasons previously explored.

From the start of this process China has, like the West, used the available discretionary funds to push its S & T to drive its national economy to provide for development of its military industrial industry capabilities, all under the same Government employer roof. That has now received added emphasis for this five year plan period with the 20% increase in S & T discretionary funding or a forecast planning increase of 2.5% of GDP by 2020. In China , the authoritarian State exists based on the military and in some cases bordering on the totalitarian side. China ’s military space capability would develop regardless of what the West does but it is still far behind the US present evolving military space capability. Probably in 15 years or so China may indeed fully challenge our leadership regardless of what China may say publicly because the circumstantial evidence is in their forecast planning considerations.

They are challenging the US predominance on the worlds stage because it is their belief doctrinally that the US is on the decline as a world power that can and will be replaced by China along with other aligned nations.

Considering the present US economic vitality, reality brings into serious question it capabilities to successfully sustain fending off these challenges. The potential introduction of a separate third world space effort as opposed to the existing S & T leadership embodied in the ISS effort is cause for concern. Along with the general S & T challenge that is cropping up all over the third world does this program represent a major national security threat in development, especially in weapons of mass destruction?

In the final analysis china’s efforts in space can only help during this five year plan era because it will force who ever occupies the Oval Office in the White House to address the issues which have been largely ignored since the early 1970's. The US however, may not even be able now to address these issues because of the huge national debt in the face of the effective devaluation of the dollar. The US is simply not the economic powerhouse it once was because of poor internal industrial management decisions to the delight of many opponents of our social system world wide. If we do not watch it we can bankrupt the US economy as the former Soviet Union did to its self creating a huge vacuum for chaos to break loose worse than it already has.

Authoritarian Regime & the Military S & T Five Year Plans

The military is the State and the State is the military under this Chinese authoritarian regime. The military is behind this space program and with its associated industry running the program all under the same roof. At the present time the Chinese leadership appears only set to make progress to catch up two to the rest of the world space leadership to where the US and former USSR were during the mid to late 1960's. They are under no illusions of what it is going to take to accomplish this assuming the leadership continues to support it.

We have to understand why these programs are being pursued by China . It has been the plan like in the West at least since the introduction of the 863 program in 1986 to apply from the total available government funding about 40% to basic scientific research to push the basic sciences and about 60% of the available funding to push the basic technologies, (research development). This is done to drive the national economy and to provide for he citizenry’s well being. Above all, it is to provide for the national security of the nation by keeping the Chinese technologically competitive with the technologically advanced world leadership. Typically this so called budget funding largely derived from the capitalist economic zones of China for the command economy operated through the five year plan via the State controlled allocation of material resources and personnel which is broken down between strictly military programs and civil military duel purpose programs.

W hy these programs are being pursued by China and what problem-s it is solving for them is not totally clear at this point. Since the introduction of the 863, S & T program in 1986 China has clearly been pursuing a world class S & T status through a large array of projects that primarily serve the military or are civil duel purpose programs. They are clearly aimed at matching or challenging the global S & T leadership as a long term conscientious effort on their part. Overall this may be the basis of why they are doing this manned program but when the details are studied it remain murky. Clearly SIGINT and imagery reconnaissance do not require a human crew tended space operation even though that is what is developing as a secondary mission under the S & T five year plans. Certainly the space program is on the leading edge of S & T development of the five year programs of China because of the leaderships “forecast planning” decisions.

The total cost of these programs to the Chinese command economy is run through the five year plans, which has no relation ship to real money as understood by the rest of the world (only, material, & personnel resource allocation) count under such a system. This program has clearly been a under funded stretched out program under this past five year plan January 1, 2001 through January 1, 2006 through the now delayed first docking of spacecraft in space. A total of apparently 19 billion Renminbi (US $2.3 billion) has been allocated for the manned program through the last five year plan. The trend is expected to continue as long as they are in the mode of developing new future medium and heavy lift launch vehicles such as the Long March-5 series. If one does not understand the five year plan material, personnel allocation budget process and its associated “forecast planning” one can not understand what is going on with the Chinese space programs. There is no way of defining the five year plan, budget at the present time since the full budget is not published because it is a State Secret and it depends on the leaderships decisions through the 15-20 year “forecast planning” process which will become apparent in the next two five year plans after this one in progress. China has released no figures on the total cost of the program and its material, personnel, man-hour and facilities infrastructure allocations.

China ’s Economic Prospects

The clearly this under funded stretched out space program under this last five year plan can now be explained as being based in China’s over performing economy problems. We now know that China ’s economy is in fact in serious trouble facing possible collapse from to much success in the Western economic zones. This is driven by the policy that over emphasis to many personnel, factory development and production capacity with considerable savings ie: emphasizing civil military technology development far in excess of what is needed without emphasizing the basic sciences in an appropriate proportion along with failure to reform the defense industries. This is the formula that helped collapse the former Soviet Union when it put its emphasis on technological development over the basic sciences from the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. By the early 1980’s the former Soviet Union knew it was in economic trouble but did not reform itself. In the recent past the Chinese leadership has admitted that if they had not reformed what part of the civil economy they did that brought in Western economic investment that the Chinese economy would have collapsed. The in compatibility of the Western style capitalist economy with China ’s five year plan, command economy has been colliding for some time now with serious future implications now becoming apparent. Under China ’s command economy which in theory must employ everybody under the same government employer roof, the defense industry and general civil duel purpose industry seems to have excess personnel for to few jobs while it is set up for war time production capability which is very incompatible with a capitalist economy. China is also very dependent on foreign oil sources for it economy leaving it vulnerable to external influence as is also the United States . How this is impacting their civil military space programs has so far only begun to manifest itself. Little wonder now that the present five year plan 2006-2010 is putting much more emphasis in the development of the basic sciences to off set these economic failings in the Chinese economy.

Robotic Un-crewed Lunar Exploration Planning and Committed Programs

China has stated that its robotic un-crewed fly by lunar orbiter spacecraft will be launched during the present five year plan in 2007. While the forecast planning schedule calls for a soft lunar landing Lander with a lunar rover class spacecraft in 2012 to be followed by a lunar automatic soil sample return spacecraft in 2017. The last two spacecraft encompasses the next two five year plans under the forecast planning schedule. These last two spacecraft utilizing purely robotic technology are committed programs undergoing design development, or research and development both in this five year plan schedule.

Human crewed lunar missions are not clearly being considered in this present five year plan but from the circumstantial evidence will be studied internally for the next forecast planning schedule considerations already being studied near the end of the present five year plan. They in turn could become a major player in the following two five year plans while China continues its committed long term un-crewed robotic lunar exploration programs. In all cases it is quite apparent that all of the programs are stretched out for overall conservative paced State planning purposes. This implicitly suggest that Chinese leadership has chosen to do its own lunar program with its own pacing and not to compete with the United States or Russia in human lunar exploration activity but to consider cooperation opportunities as they arise. This however does not prevent China from carrying out an early crewed lunar circumnavigation program by what ever means when ever it so chooses.

Long March-5 Launch Vehicle Series Harold of the Future

This Long March-5 (LM-5) launch vehicle series program has already slipped several times both from its forecast planning and five year planning schedules because of the slowness in developing the key technologies requiring foreign help. China’s introduction of the new Long March-5 medium heavy lift launch vehicle in the Proton/Titan-3D/4 class was planned for the middle of the this five year plan January 1, 2006 through January 1, 2011. With this new launch vehicle we could assume that more advanced un-crewed lunar, planetary probes will appear by the end of this five year plan. This is in addition to the approved and funded rudimentary and larger Salyut class space stations programs in the following five year plan program. The possibly planned Long March-2F/3B based human crewed lunar circumnavigation and subsequent Long March-5 based human crewed lunar circumnavigation and lunar orbit programs through a minimum of two flight tests should also appear in the follow on five year plan January 1, 2011 - January 1, 2016 . Human rating availability for the Long March-5 will probable not occur until the middle of that five year plan. That is, if they decide to commit to such programs at that time and if the Long March-5 launch vehicle does not give them too much trouble with its advanced closed cycle propulsion system and Kerosene/LOX propellants.

In the mean time they plan to use the existing spacecraft variations and their boosters to do the initial un-crewed robotic lunar exploration. Eventually down the road two five year plans beyond the just ended five year plan we could expect them to start developing a Saturn-V class launch vehicle for human lunar landing and large earth orbit payloads assuming the leadership still supports such a policy in the future. It is also of some interest what kind of military payloads will be launched by China on the LM-5 series of boosters separate from the civil duel purpose payloads suggested. Ultimately it is the political leadership that must support and justify these programs domestically in spite of how much the industry and scientist believe it to be necessary. It is after all their rice bowel. The final answer to the Science & Technology (S & T) leadership questions must be a political answer. This however, does not preclude un-crewed lunar exploration in support of future follow on human exploration of the Moon and un-crewed exploration of the planets as previously noted. Certainly the introduction of the LM-5 booster will be the advent to unmanned lunar exploration probably followed with a limited human lunar orbital program in the 2014-2016 time frames or probably during the next five year plan.

Such a series of lunar mission is technically feasible but whether it will happen is an open question. To this analyst the LM-5, launch vehicle has been delayed and stretched out as they do not have an immediate need for it in this five year plan but perhaps in the next five year plan depending on how things develop. Many things could go wrong with the introduction and operational timing of a new larger launch vehicle that introduces new technology at the same time. The funding and allocation is limited and in general the overall budget to me is stretched out like I have indicated before. In spite of their new S & T plans their economy is in trouble and can not support it without creating major problems and their leadership has recognized that reality.

LM-5 Launch Site Preparation

There is still no indication of launch site construction on Hainan Island east of Sanya but it is also recognized that Jiuquan could support the early elements of the LM-5 provided Kerosene and Lox propellant farms are developed. Time will tell how this will evolve and this leaves some serious concerns over the program pacing verses what has been publicly discussed until very recently. China however stated recently that the LM-5 booster will be available to them with a first test launch in 2011 the beginning of the next five year plan after the present one in progress. This in turn indicates that the LM-5 will be flight tested only during the start of the next five year plan nearly a half five year plan behind the intended original schedule period 2008 through 2010 the last half of the present five year plan.

A high technology program behind in the five year plan schedule is a major no, no in the Chinese planned command economy that had to be sanctioned by the party, central government and its leadership based on the actual circumstances because of its impact on the allocation of materials, personnel and facilities infrastructure. This is why it has taken several years for this to be finalized outside the existing plan. It also indicated that the launch vehicle along with the crewed human Shenzhou spacecraft EVA and docking systems technology demonstration has also slipped. However, the lunar circumnavigation and lunar orbit mission capability are still being perfected essentially parallel to one another. This slip in the mission planning does in fact put them back on the critical forecast planning schedule in the middle of the next five year plan. On the one hand they have slipped the flight testing schedule but at the same time eliminated intermediary steps acceleration the program forward. This also explains the delay in the LM-5 launch infrastructure construction.


The absence of evidence on these human lunar exploration goals does not mean something is not happening. It can be quite to the contrary and more often than not it should be a red flag warning that something is indeed going on that will eventually manifest itself. Although the human lunar circumnavigation mission is clearly technically feasible through two different means there is no certainty of any committed program. However, the parallel development of the required technologies in both the launch vehicles along with the crewed human Shenzhou spacecraft, EVA and docking systems technology for the committed space station goals as well as the potential not openly committed human crewed lunar circumnavigation and lunar orbit mission capability can not be ignored except at the US own geopolitical technological surprise expense.

One day we may wake up to a Russian and or Chinese geopolitical technological surprise and realize that with little warning that Russia or China has launched a precursor un-crewed earth orbital rendezvous (EOR) lunar circumnavigation mission to be followed by a human lunar circumnavigation mission soon afterwards. Once the LM-5 booster becomes operational after 2011, the single launch circumnavigation mission becomes possible and the lunar orbital mission becomes possible through EOR. This is because the Shenzhou spacecraft has built into its design the capacity for earth orbit and lunar orbital missions. It could with proper equipment also support a human lunar landing mission through EOR similar the present Russian mission concept. It could also carry out the human lunar landing mission through the introduction of a new booster beyond the capability of the LM-5 which they have only in the last few years hinted at through their 15-20 year forecast planning consideration requirements after the next five year plan. Such a 100 metric ton plus capacity Saturn-V class launch vehicle would only begin conceptual development around the middle of the 2011-2015 five year plan with introduction during middle of the following five year plan 2016-2020. This brings into question whether China will have a human lunar landing capability until the middle of the 2021-2025 Five Year Plan.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias