China Working on Reusable Launch Vehicles & Spacecraft

shenzhou1
Shenzhou capsule

Spurred on by developments in the United States, China says it is working on reusable human spacecraft and launch vehicles.

China is studying how to retrieve and reuse manned spacecraft in its future missions, the chief engineer of the nation’s manned space program said on Sunday.

“It’s our next goal to reuse manned spacecraft. We want to make our space exploration cost-effective,” Zhou Jianping said, as China marks Space Day, newly designated by the government to commemorate China’s first satellite launch on April 24, 1970….

Chinese’s official Xinhau news agency also reported that engineers are working on reusable launch vehicles.

Chinese experts have already built a prototype model to test theories on the reusable rocket booster’s landing subsystems. They have completed “experimental verifications” using “multiple parachutes” supposedly attached to the booster, a source with China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technologies (CALT), developer of China’s Long March rocket series, said.

“The experiment has laid solid foundation for the realization of reusable rockets in the country,” the source said.

Ma Zhibin, deputy director of CALT’s aerospace department also confirmed to Xinhua Thursday in a separate interview that Chinese scientists are working on reusable rockets, although the technologies they employ may differ from those of SpaceX.

“There is of course more than one way to do this … I believe we could see some serious results during the 13th Five-Year Plan period,” he said, referring to the five years between 2016 and 2020.

  • When was the last time there was THIS much energy going into launch vehicle/rocket business? The space race/missile gap era? There was definitely a race during shuttle, but it was the 2 superpowers only. Like the moon race, this is generalized to everyone that makes any kind of a rocket.

  • ReSpaceAge

    Thank you Mr. Musk

  • I don’t deny it, Elon has been alms or singlehandedly responsible for this generation of space development. To the point that even if SpaceX goes out of business, I think he’s opened a floodgate that will never close again.

  • windbourne

    I am not entirely sure that is true. Old space would step in and run their prices up and destroy again the space manufacturing the way they did before.
    After all, old space and CONgress continues to push SLS, even though economically, it is a total disaster.

    Once BO and Bigelow private station are going, along with spacex, then I think that old space could not do it again.

  • windbourne

    Lol. For China to have a reusable spacecraft, they will almost certainly have to copy spacex, Boeing, or SNC. I wonder which one has the higher number of spies? I am guessing Boeing. As such, China’s new craft will likely look a cst-100.

  • windbourne

    The real issue is how to reuse second stage. I think that ula has right idea with ACES. Basically create tugs.

  • stoffer

    Yes, but those tugs need to be refueled somehow. We could probably make LOX reasonably efficiently using a solar powered PROFAC (propulsive fluid accumulator), but we need to make the fuel somehow. Is there enough hydrogen in the upper atmosphere to extract it using a PROFAC?

    I was thinking, that for a manned spacecraft it could make sense to give the capsule/spaceplane a 5 km/s deltaV capability, effectively combining the second stage and the spacecraft. At leas then we would deal with one heat shield instead of two. Besides, fuel tanks are light, so they would effectively provide a lower ballistic coefficient. The engine is a bit heavy, but it should be doable. The par where this all falls apart is providing an adequate abort capability. In case of the fist stage failure, it will be hard to make a LES that can take away a spacecraft full of fuel for 5 km/s deltaV. In case of the integrated spacecraft/2nd stage failure, well, the crew is smoked, unless we provide an escape capsule. Then we are back to square one.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    We don’t need to make fuel in orbit. What we need is fully reusable launch systems that can deliver cheap terrestrially made fuel, cheaply to orbit.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Or you could re-enter and land, then re-integrate and re-fly. Of course you need thermal protection and to retain fuel, both of which eat up payload mass. However, since at the end of this payload mass (per launch) compromise you get the second stage back to fly many more times, the total payload launched for the lifetime of the second stage is potentially far higher than for an expended second stage. Consequently, the cost of launch, per payload mass, is potentially far lower.

    Tugs?. So every single launch to orbit will result in having a orbital tug that at some point will need to be refuelled. ULA has an idea of how they could make additional use SOME of their second stages. This is exactly because, they DO NOT have the “right idea”. The right idea is reusability.

  • ReSpaceAge

    40% payload cut to recover a second stage? You need a first and second booster double the power/size of falcon 9 to pull this off. Seems you could bolt two falcon 9s together putting a heat shield on the second stage to pull this off.

    I wonder if Musk will offer a raptor falcon replacement in the near future much smaller than MCT?

  • ReSpaceAge

    Shoots the whole lunar fuel thing in the pants.

  • stoffer

    In the end, using a solar powered ion drive propelled profac should be a cheaper way to make LOX compared to launching the LOX from Earth. One could maybe use a joint approach – make LOX using a profac and launch the LH2 or LCH4 from Earth.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I think so.

    That said, long term, once heavy industry has reached the Moon, and then the rest of the solar system, fuel will be where ever you can find it. But for the next hundred years, and to establish that large scale industrial presence, fuel from Earth will be the cheapest and easiest method.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Can’t see them being dumb enough to try the DreamChaser-like approach. Can’t see them being ambitious enough to try the Dragon2-like approach. So you’re probably quite close to the mark.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    A two stage fully reusable launch system with a lift capability of 150-200 tonnes, able to launch 1000 times without major refurbishment would lower the cost to orbit to around 10-50 dollars per kg and would likely be available before a working profac system. Also, such a system could service a large and thriving LEO, cis-lunar, and Martian colonising effort. How many profac vehicles would it take to collect thousands of tonnes of propellent a day? – it would take just a few launches from Earth to LEO. What kind of SEP do you envisage using to collect hundreds of tonnes of propellent? – it would take just a few launches using a cheap LOX/CH4 fully reusable launch system.

  • ReSpaceAge

    Seems it will be on Musk to use his MCT system to lead the way to finally getting fuel up in space cheaply. Great payload for he aging booster fleet. The road to Mars is getting clearer, thanks for your comments, helpful

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    dude
    BFR = Big F**king Rocket = SHLV from Earth surface to orbit,
    MCT = Mars Colonial Transporter = Earth orbit to Mars surface and return

    (definitions subject to change as SpaceX reveals more details – roll on September).

  • stoffer

    Would’t a profac be cheaper and faster to make than a 200 tonnes class fully reusable LV? a profac is a ram intake at the front, a compressor (like the vacuum pumps used in the CVD machines down in the cleanroom), solar arrays, guidance and any available ion drive. That is all off the shelf technology. The reason a profac is not built yet is because there is nothing today that could use the gasses mined by the profac.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Where you plan on going with your 5 km/s deltaV?.
    I don’t see the need/desire to mix the duties of an launch/re-entry crew vehicle with that of a “long range” spacecraft. You get from home to port to board a cruise ship using a car/bus/train/plane – in this analogy the “port” would be in orbit and you would get there by car/bus/train/plane/launch-rocket.
    If we are really serious about doing lots of stuff in space and going to many far off destinations, then we have to detach the Earth launch/re-entry process from the genuinely long distance from of the journey – this means having separate specialised vehicles for each job.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    An ion drive spacecraft would have to be in very tenuous atmosphere to operate and to be honest, I don’t know how long it would take to collect 200 tonnes of useful gases from that environment (do you have any idea on this?). However, since we need fully reusable heavy lift vehicles to lift large structures to orbit, then we already need those systems, or else there will be nothing to use propellent by whatever means it is delivered.
    A fully reusable launch system could conceivably be operated at $1-5 per launch, for every 150-200 tonnes of payload to orbit. The SEP profac system you describe would not be that cheap (would it?), would need to collect is own fuel or itself be refuelled regularly, would need a cheap fully reusable launch system to get it to orbit cheaply in the first place, and very many such spacecraft would be required to service fleets of orbital/cis-lunar/Martian spacecraft at a rate equivalent to that which fully reusable launch systems could achieve.

  • stoffer

    Well, the idea is to merge the second stage with the spacecraft, to share the weight of the heat shield, not to put 5 km/s for going beyond LEO.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    OK, my misunderstanding, sorry.

  • windbourne

    ACES has several different second stages. In particular, the have 3 that are nothing but LH2/LOX. So, they have a cheap fuel depot.

  • opiium

    lol so the US invents “squares” and “rectangles”, and the rest of the world must refrain from “copying” such an idea? we must be speaking american now, that exceptional strand of english that’s devoid of logic and definitions. Newsflash yenk whigger, look in ur schools, here’s an analogy, when the Chinese copies a yenk, that’s to give the yenk a reason for existence, b/c had we had to do it ourselves, the end product would leave a yenk no room to breathe, u realize that right, yenk, the wall builder that requires affirmative action just to get in my school, btw, I encourage all to spy on boeing, snc, spacex, and the rest of its military industrial complex, else u’ll find urself hostage to the world’s most violent nation with a load of primitve apes running the show