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China takes a key step toward building a large space station (arstechnica.com)
71 points by rbanffy 185 days ago | hide | past | web | 15 comments | favorite

Very happy that countries continue pushing into space. However couldn't help but notice that SpaceX is progressing faster than anyone else. Long March 7 that they used for this mission had just 2 launches [1] compared to similar by payload to LEO Falcon 9's more than 30 launches [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_March_7

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcon_9

Well, Long March 7 made its inaugural flight on June 25, 2016 while Falcon 9 did it back in Oct 2012. It is not surprising that Falcon 9 had more flights given that NASA had contracts with SpaceX to ship stuff to ISS where China is banned. Wait until ISS is retired in 2024 and China's space station will be the only one in space.

SpaceX hired all NASA's engineers and uses all NASA's technologies. China builds its technologies all by itself, given that the US banned any collaboration in space program with China. You bet that SpaceX launched a few more than rockets than China. Even that, China has a higher success rate than SpaceX in rocket launching. SpaceX explodes a little too often.

> China builds its technologies all by itself

Well, if you want to be technical about it: they are using Russian designs and got help from Russia.

Russian designs are also very reliable, which is why we use them ourselves.

> they are using Russian designs

Not at all. An important and telling detail: pintle injector is almost never used in Russia, but standard for Merlins. Or you can look into gas generator cycle, which isn't used for today's Russian kerosene engines except RD-107 family, which have separate components for turbopumps and pressurization.

> SpaceX hired all NASA's engineers and uses all NASA's technologies.

Um, no, that's wrong. I'm thrilled for China's accomplishments and won't talk down about them, but your assessment of SpaceX is simply false.

It's irritating that the US hasn't swallowed their pride and invited China to join in on the ISS. If we can manage ITAR with Russia, we can manage it with the Chinese.

ITAR is a complicated problem. In many cases the Russians either already have the technological capability or don't have the interest/ability to clone it. The Chinese are often the other way around on all three constraints.

The issue isn't so much ITAR, but tech transfer in general though. The US is an economic rival to China whereas Russia has roughly the GDP of NY. We've seen time and time again that feeding China technology only results in it being replicated and further developed domestically.

Here comes one interesting problem - as an economic rival to China, if the US keeps refusing to sell its techs/high tech products to China, what US can really do about the current trade deficit with China?

For the general tech transfer issue, did the embargo actually work? Look at supercomputers, satellites, nukes including its delivery systems and jet fighters etc. It didn't work very well to serve the US interests. It is a failed system that probably slowed we Chinese down a little bit, but in a long run it gives your rival all motivations to invest heavily in _all_ those areas and eventually master them. When the US is basically forcing its rival to invest in itself, it sounds like a strategic mistake to me.

Yea, it's probably true that it incentivizes China to develop it's own tech (most notably super computer chips) but to develop something from square-one takes a lot of resources. It's a lot easier to reverse engineer something you bought and use it to build your own then it is to develop something from a concept. If everyone has to spend their time reinventing the wheel, they're not doing other things.

As far as the trade imbalance, the things that would fall under ITAR (the only goods that are significantly restricted) are not particularly significant on a global trade scale. Yes, the US could sell a few billion dollars worth of F-22 jets to China, but that still wouldn't make a dent, and to acquire the tech, China would only have to buy one.

The point is China doesn't really care about the ISS. They are just happy building their won from scratch. In the long run, it makes them much better, because they're learning from their own mistakes and successes.

We're our own worst enemy.

I fail to see what's the point of building space stations. What problem do they solve? It doesn't help with exploration of other planets and satellites. No major engineering application or scientific experiment needs them. They harm space efforts by taking money away from more fruitful ventures.

They serve as a platform for testing the technologies required for long term space exploration.

You can't just jet off into interplanetary space and expect good things to happen, you need to develop a huge array of life support systems that need to be highly reliable.

A low earth orbit space station is exploring space as much as a cavemen on the shore up to his ankles is exploring the ocean. I'd rather send robots to Saturn's moons than people 250 miles away from the earth's surface.

Every time I see a story about the Chinese space program I have two thoughts. First is the standard "good for them, let's get more competition in space."

The second is "thank God I'm not the head of security for SpaceX."

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