Over the past three years, China has successfully integrated space exploration, especially with regard to its successful lunar missions. With a desire to further develop its technological park, companies in the aerospace sector recently presented their various ideas during a day dedicated to space. And it seems that in its race for space, the country draws heavily on SpaceX. While the Long March 2C rocket already took up some ideas from Falcon 9, the Chinese state-owned company CALT unveiled a project for a suborbital vehicle whose appearance strongly recalls that of SpaceX’s Starship.
This weekend, China celebrated its sixth national space day in Nanjing, a capital of one of the country’s eastern provinces. As part of the festivities, Chinese space officials highlighted the recent return of lunar samples from the Chang’e-5 mission, some of which were on display, and announced the name of China’s first rover to Mars, Zhurong, which is expected to land on the Red Planet in May.
A booth operated by China’s leading state rocket maker, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), also shed light on the potential of point-to-point suborbital transport. It is a concept in which a vehicle departs from Earth, flies into suborbital space and lands on the other side of the world in less than an hour.
A project strongly inspired by SpaceX’s Starship
The promotional video, captured and shared on Chinese social network Weibo, shows two different concepts for achieving suborbital manned flights in about two decades. What’s interesting about the video is that the first concept bears a striking resemblance to SpaceX’s Starship vehicle. It shows a large vehicle capable of vertical takeoff and vertical landing.
The concept is notable not only for its Starship-like appearance – the vehicle’s exterior is shiny, like Starship’s stainless steel structure, and the first and second stages are equally seamless – but also in its function. Although Starship was primarily touted as a vehicle designed to take humans to the Moon and Mars, SpaceX also developed a concept of point-to-point transport.
SpaceX first unveiled this ‘Earth to Earth’ concept in September 2017. A video released at the time showed Starship’s suborbital flight time from New York to Shanghai of just 39 minutes and advertised the ability to move. anywhere on Earth in less than an hour ”. The second point-to-point concept in the Chinese video showed a horizontal take-off and landing vehicle using some sort of electromagnetic catapult.
These two systems are part of previously announced plans by China to expand their global point-to-point transport capacity by 2045. As part of the country’s long-term planning goals, Chinese industry would start delivering freight in the whole world via a suborbital flight by 2035 and passengers by 2045.
A series of previous inspirations
It wouldn’t be the first time that China’s space program has been inspired by SpaceX. The country has followed SpaceX from the very beginning, particularly with an interest in SpaceX’s plans to reuse early rocket stages. When the company first launched in 2006, as the Liftoff book reports, a Chinese spy boat was in the small expanse of the ocean where the first stage of the Falcon 1 rocket was to enter.
More recently, in 2019, the Chinese Long March 2C rocket tested “mesh fins” like those used by the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket to navigate the atmosphere during the reentry process. China intends to develop the Long March 8 rocket to land on a maritime platform like the Falcon 9 booster did, and Chinese semi-private companies such as LinkSpace and Galactic Energy appear to be mimicking the launch technology. from SpaceX.
It is not clear whether China would also develop a Starship-type vehicle for interplanetary transport. For now, the country plans to develop a more conventional super heavy launcher known as the Long March 9 rocket, as well as a three-core thruster that resembles SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.
Video presentation of the prototype: