Is the U.S. Losing the Space Race to China?

Capitol Building
House Space Subcommittee Hearing

Are We Losing the Space Race to China?

Date: Tuesday, September 27, 2016 – 10:00am
Location: 2318 Rayburn House Office Building Subcommittees:


Hon. Dennis C. Shea
Chairman, U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission

Mr. Mark Stokes
Executive Director, Project 2049 Institute

Mr. Dean Cheng
Senior Research Fellow, Asian Studies Center, Heritage Foundation

Dr. James Lewis
Senior Vice President and Director, Strategic Technologies Program, Center for Strategic & International Studies


  • Vladislaw

    race to where?

  • Sam Moore

    This might not be strictly on-topic, but I’m sure the people here will be interested;

    Early this year (reports conflict on exactly when), the Chinese aerospace conglomerate CASIC spun off a commercial spaceflight company, the creatively named Expace. A commercial aerospace complex with Expace as the anchor tenant is being built in Wuhan, sized for 50 LV’s and 140 commercial sats (presumably microsatellites) a year, and to be completed in 2020. Expace rockets are being built at CASIC facilities in the interim.
    Expace has an order book of ten launches and a hundred million yuan as of a couple weeks back, and their first launch is set for December. That launch is of a KZ-1A, a modified version of the KZ-1 CASIC has already launched twice for the Chinese government, and should do about 200kg to 700km SSO, or 250kg to LEO. Payload is the third Jilin-1 commercial earth-obs sat.
    A 1,000kg to 700km SSO launcher, KZ-11, is well into development and should launch early next year.
    Both launchers use solids with wound-composite cases, with small liquid-fueled adjustment stages. Emphasis is being given to ease of launch; KZ-1A supposedly requires a day and a crew of six to launch, and KZ-11 two days and ten people.

    Commercial spaceflight is well and truly arriving in China.

  • JamesG

    Profitability and market dominance. Also that little geopolitical thing too.

  • I’d say to the Moon. If China wanted to and we failed to develop crewed lunar landers, they could have the first woman on the Moon (with about 800 million school-age girls watching worldwide), the first permanent base off Earth, the first couples moving off Earth, the first dog on the Moon, and determining the artificial gravity Rx for gestation and childhood. I’d say they would be recognized as in the lead in space if they did that.

    Then also, they could pull out of the OST and with very few crewed landings, they could drive around the 70%+ sunlit areas of the poles in about 11 hours each. They could also quickly survey, prospect, and improve those areas to solidify their claims. Not saying that they will but we shouldn’t let them reach a point of temptation where they could.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Great question. Their crewed spacecraft are based on modified Soviet technology. The advantage that they have is that they can throw as much money into their space program as they wish and, to some degree, they do not have to answer to their populace regarding how to spend the national treasure. Still, after a fast start, they have shown little home-grown technology which makes me question either their imagination or their engineering prowess and their manned program seems to be sitting at the Salyut or Skylab level of development.
    I do agree with Doug that the Moon would be a logical place to go but if we want to go and stay, there needs to be some practical benefit to people in this country (or to the populace of our partners if we go with a partnership) in order to create a consensus in support.

  • Paul_Scutts

    Short answer, the Chinese have a ways to go yet, but, the US could lose it’s lead. It all depends upon whether the current pace of the Chinese space effort persists and the pace of the US public sector space effort continues to dawdle.

  • Vladislaw

    That only presupposes China is wiling to commit a sizable percentage of their budget to space .. Still do not see anything apolloish in their spending to date.

  • Vladislaw

    dominate which market?

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    To get to the Moon the Chinese do not need an Apollo like spending surge – that was the USA doing a 1 mile sprint. They could run a marathon – spend say 10%-20% of their space budget on new designs to produce a new piece of equipment every year. One day on the news we would see Chinese astronauts driving their new rover away from their lunar habitat.

  • JamesG

    But OTOH, they don’t have to spend as much money and effort developing hardware and can concentrate on learning and operating spacecraft instead. Yes, they aren’t particularly creative, but at this point they don’t need to.

  • JamesG

    Pick one.

  • Vladislaw

    I have no clue what markets you are refering to that that they are going to dominate in CisLunar…

  • Vladislaw

    then they are not going to leap anywhere… they suffer from the same pork issues as the US, just on a smaller scale. As Mike Griffin mentioned on his visit, the managers kept asking him how does he manage to get human space flight funding .. they find it almost impossible to get funding for human space activities. they are not funding to get anywhere first or second.. even their station has moved 3 years to the right and is still moving.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Perhaps we should fear the Chinese, afterall they aren’t even real people – apparently they just opened a new research institute to investigate moustache twirling: The Chinese People’s Muahahaha Institute. And if they start wearing black hats, we should really worry.

  • JamesG

    Then you are not thinking very hard.

  • savuporo

    Chinese just launched a modular space station prototype with evolved life support and refueling capabilities. Technology engineered and designed in this decade. This prototype will inform and feed into design of their ‘operational’ model five years down the road.
    They also have a regular cadence of lunar probes, with continuously improving and iterating technology – the jump in technology just between Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2 was very impressive.
    Technology in their commercial satellite buses is catching up to what Astrium, SSL, Lockheed and Boeing are building.

    I’d say they are doing quite well.

  • Vladislaw

    Well then .. point me to this demand then. Who is demanding hardware and services for CisLunar space that currently is not being served?

    Seems like a pretty simple question.

  • Stop asking your questions when you’re SUPPOSED to be afraid. We need you to be afraid so you’ll do what we say and allow us to spend money however we choose. So back to just go back to whatever you were doing and let us tell you what to be afraid of… and we’ll also tell you how we’ll take care of those fears. 🙂

  • B.Selvadurai

    Just see what they have done in the past year and plan to do in the near future and you might reconsider your opinion.

  • publiusr

    Their CZ-9 HLLV will fly after SLS–but before BFR/New Armstrong.

  • JamesG

    Is there a cislunar market currently? Do you not think that someday there will be? If you had a competitive cislunar launch capacity, would you not also have a competitive anything else in near Earth space launch capacity?

    Don’t be such a dense troll.

  • ThomasLMatula

    When viewing China’s future space policy it is important to also consider China’s economic future. Just as folks were fearing an economic take over of the world by Japan in the 1980’s folks today fear an economic take over by China. But its not going to happen for similar reasons.

    First is the demographic trends in China, just as they were in Japan in the 1980’s are against it. But the numbers are even worst. FYI.

    “The country’s population is now projected to peak in 2028, well before the 2030–2035 timeframe expected just a half decade ago. In all probability, the top will be reached earlier, maybe in 2020.”

    “The workforce—those aged 15 to 59—has already begun to decline. The peak
    year was 2011, according to Beijing’s official National Bureau of Statistics. There is concern that China will not be able to support its growing ranks of retirees—set to double to 20 percent of the population in 2035—because the pool of workers is contracting by three million a year.”

    “China’s economy benefited from its population bulge—the “demographic dividend”—during the so-called reform era beginning at the end of 1978, but now growth will be constrained by a shrinking workforce.”

    This decline in the workforce and increase in those dependent on it will have an impact on what China spends on.

    “Indeed, increased spending obligations created by the aging of the population will not only shift resources away from investment and production; they will also test the government’s ability to meet rising demands for benefits and services. In combination, a declining labor supply and increased public and private spending obligations will resultin an economic growth model and a society that have not been seen in China before. Japan’s economic stagnation, closely related to the aging
    of its population, serves as a ready reference.”

    Add to this that China has been hiding its economic weakness.

    “Meanwhile, China has stuck to its official line that the economy will grow by 6.5 percent in 2016 and the government deficit will amount to three percent of GDP, meaning that nearly half of China’s 2016 economic growth will come from deficit
    spending. But indirect indicators such as electricity use, freight shipments, industrial output, merchandise exports, tax revenues, and even retail sales suggest that, in reality, China’s economy may grow at three percent or less. And the government’s true all-in deficit spending is without a doubt much more than three percent. The obvious conclusion is that the real economy in China probably isn’t growing at all. It may even be shrinking.

    Growing or shrinking, it is almost certain that the only source of economic growth in China today is government deficit spending. How long the Chinese government can keep up the pace is anyone’s guess. The only sure answer is: not forever. In 2013 the Xi administration announced with great fanfare that henceforth the market would play a “decisive” role in China’s economy. It now seems likely that China’s flirtation with the decisive role of the market won’t last much more than two years. China’s market economy can survive a stock market crash. But it can’t survive a government fiscal meltdown.”

    Think of Enron on a national scale. When the numbers catch up with reality it won’t be pretty. Throw in 40-50 million unhappy men unable to find wives because of China’s one child policy and it will get down right ugly. All the elements are in place for a nasty regime change. When it happens the nation’s space program will likely be tossed out with the leaders supporting it…

    Is it

  • ThomasLMatula

    I don’t see them pulling out of the OST, their image in the third world they are seeking alliances in would suffer too much. No, what I see is worst, China embracing the Moon Treaty and then dominating the various planetary authorities that would be created under it. This will cloak its take over in “Moral Righteous” for the poor nations exploited by the West.

    What the U.S. should be doing is encouraging Moon Treaty nations which want to partner with the space to withdraw from it on the grounds it represents values from the old socialist era, not the new free market one.This would undermine its validity. I would start with ESA members like Belgium and The Netherlands.

    For example, IF the U.S. announces the building of a Moon Base as a follow up to the ISS, it should make it clear only non-Moon Treaty nations could partner with it. This prohibition should also be extended to ESA as long as any of its members are part of the Moon Treaty. But I don’t expect that to happen. The U.S. is just too agreeable when it comes to space.

  • Vladislaw

    Hey YOU are the one stating China is going to take over these that do not exist for launching hardware no one is building. If anyone is being dense it is you for not providing a single freakin’ answer to a VERY simple question which with all your bullshit you still have not answered

    WHAT markets are they are going to take over.

  • JamesG

    You must be a space historian.

    The Chinese have an economic advantage vs. the US/West in… just about everything, and they are rapidly closing on a technological one too. That gives them the upper hand in many markets, except for maybe US defense launches and for all the ones the US state dept. can wall off.

    You really think no one is building cislunar hardware? What do you think SLS, F-H, New Glenn, LM-5, and the assorted Russian and Arian stuff is for/can be used for? What about the stuff that hasn’t been built yet that will if/when commercial space expands beyond LEO. Do you really think that the US is going to be able to afford more than token stunts in the near to medium term (longer?)?? You think that US launchers are going to be competitive when they are an order of magnitude more expensive in a internationalized environment where rockets are a commodity?


  • Vladislaw

    No I studied Economics at the University for 7 years. Only a minor in history. When President Obama said that he was going to increase funding for alternatives and was going to triple the solar funding to a bit over 3 billion the chinese thought we were going after that market and they responded by pouring 43 billion into the solar industry and captured the market. When I see them start throwing money at COMMERCIAL space I will be worried. As it is they are a government “business” and have the same pork problems as we do .. only not as pronounced.

  • JamesG

    The PRC is a hybrid of totalitarian and capitalist systems. You could call it Fascism, except that is a loaded term in the West. We “honest” capitalists and economists really haven’t wrapped our heads around the fact that the Chinese are playing Mercantilism Warfare against us, and we had no clue until the bitter end when it won’t make any difference. Maybe history will have pity on us in the same way it did for the poor Native Americans?

    In the context here, it means that if the Chinese find an economic or political opportunity in dominating a market, they will. They simply have that much leverage on the global economy. So, when commercial LEO and beyond opens up, expect the Chinese to be right behind whomever (expensively) pathfinds along. In business the race is not to the swift.

  • Siderite

    Why go to space? It’s the same question as why cross the border illegally, or why work a minimum wage job with unpaid overtime. The answer is that there will always be people with money to use and abuse the people who don’t have it. Space will be owned by rich people that will never see space outside a few touristic and propaganda sorties, but will be inhabited and worked by people who see it as a better alternative than staying hungry on Earth. So maybe some Americans will own the company, but I don’t see them flocking to do hard work in even harsher conditions. In all of this governments ultimately play no role whatsoever.