- Status Report
- Sep 23, 2023
Spacelift Washington: China’s Man-rated Launcher Has Commercial Appeal; US Space Budgets; and Space Traffic Forecast
China’s Man-rated Launcher Has Commercial Appeal
Nearly a year after the first test flight of the provisional new Chinese piloted spacecraft, a second test of a more fully defined vehicle is widely anticipated to be imminent. But while the world awaits Shenzou II, more details are emerging about its launch vehicle, and other more advanced expendable launchers now being designed inside China. The significance of these developments go beyond the definition of a new human spaceflight capability-and has major implications for commercial space transportation. For Shenzou’s booster has commercial appeal.
Last week the first United Nations-sponsored World Space Week was celebrated globally. The celebrations are to be held each year at the time of the historic October 4th anniversary date of the birth of the Space Age and the Sputnik I/R-7 Semyorka orbital flight. National space programs and other interested space advocates hold meetings, symposia, and give lectures and speeches. To mark the event, China’s Luan Enjie, Administrator of the China National Space Administration, gave details of a number of his country’s space projects. According to analyst Chen Lan, these details included the evolution of the Long March family, including the series of evolvants to the geostationary commercial launcher the Long March (Chen Zou) 2E.
The first series of upgrades to the CZ-2E include manrating the vehicle into the 2F configuration now used as the Shenzou launch vehicle. Changes here include the vehicle’s guidance system, a launch escape system for the piloted spacecraft, and more accurate orbital insertion capabilities. While such would be needed for the accurate tracking of the Shenzou once in Earth orbit, such accuracy has commercial potential in inserting satellites into precise orbits, a critical function of any commercial satellite launcher.
A larger growth version, the 2E-A, is also under design. This vehicle evolves the baseline 2E/F with new, lengthened strap-on boosters burning UDMH and nitrogen tetroxide. Each booster uses a pair of China’s YF-20B engines, as compared to a single engine now used on the existing launcher. The vehicle’s core engines and capabilities remain as exists today. The vehicle’s upper stage has an uprated version of the existing YF-22B engine with larger fuel tanks than those used on other Chinese launchers, such as the smaller CZ-2C. Overall, this larger vehicle can insert 12 metric tons to low Earth orbit as compared with 9.2 metric ton capability of the 2E and 2F. During World Space Week China announced that the CZ-2F’s avionics suite would be used on the new 2E-A, and that a flight test was anticipated in two to three years. New launch facilities were under construction for this and the other new launch vehicles.
Administrator Luan also disclosed a new heavy lift expendable booster under development. This new launcher would feature a series of cryogenic LOX/LH2 core engines as its first stage core with four strap-on liquid engines burning at liftoff. The rocket would be capable of inserting 23 tons into low orbit and 11 tons to GTO.
Models pictures and details of the Shenzou and CZ-2F were released by China at their Military Museum of the Chinese People last week and in traveling exhibits in the far east. The increasing commercial potential of the Long March family will further squeeze an already crowded market for launch services, and a satellite export environment where U.S. made satellites and satellite components face export license bottlenecks and more extensive roadblocks to launch aboard any Chinese launcher.
China’s heavy lift vehicles will in theory at least compete against Europe’s Ariane V and the ILS Proton, Atlas V, and Boeing Delta IV vehicles. It will further complicate Japan’s hopes to field a fully commercial H-IIA once flight trials get underway in 2001/2002.
Will all of these launch vehicles be able to exist in the existing depressed market for launch services and the increased need for launch reliability in the years ahead?
Space Budgets Head Towards Finalization
The U.S. Senate finally passed the NASA and FAA space budgets late last week, with NASA getting the administration’s request and the FAA getting 98% of its wish list as well. Wrapped in the Conference Committee language to speed the process, NASA got all of its heart’s desire, including full funding for the Space Launch Initiative (SLI), shuttle upgrades, and space science increases. The catch came with a Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) sponsored series of review requirements imposed on spending for the International Space Station. The FAA received $12 million of its $12.6 request, which will allow expansion of its staffing needs and increased space launch license inspectors and analysts. Space Launch 3rd Party Liability protection also received a four-year renewal, not another one year extension that some had feared. The issue of the government’s role in 3rd party launch accident liability insurance will still need to be faced in a more comprehensive, long term setting.
Year-end Traffic Will Surge
Arianespace officials will attempt to launch five more times before the new year in yet another demonstration that the French-led European launch services provider is increasing its flexibility and capability to deal with the growing issue of manifest management. A new satellite processing facility will be ready next March that will allow Arianespace to conduct five concurrent launch campaigns at the same time. Availability of the Ariane 4 configurations to back up the Ariane 5 is also considered a key element of Arianespace flexibility. In 2001 look for Arianespace to attempt to launch 11 missions, including a mix of six Ariane 4s and five Ariane 5s in the next 12 months. The company signed launch contracts for 21 satellites during the year and has a backorder of 50 spacecraft. The company also has contracts with ESA for nine Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) launches to the ISS, making Arianespace the first commercial launch service provider with space station resupply contracts as well as those for commercial satellites.
Taken as a whole, what do these developments mean for commercial launch?
First, Chinese launch vehicle modernization will have little effect on global markets for launch services in the short-term. Current export issues in flying any U.S.-made component on a Chinese vehicle will have so many obstacles and licensing regulations that the entry of even a markedly cheaper medium, medium-plus, or heavy lifter will take time. It is also true that existing launch providers with their stable of increasingly reliable and available vehicles have a strong hold on the world’s satellite makers and their business for the next decade.
But this environment will change. The coming EELV-driven configurations of Delta IV and Atlas V vehicles will eventually filter into the market, sharply challenging Arianespace’s leadership with its Ariane 5 family. With no more Ariane 4 vehicles in production, the Ariane 5 will eventually have to stand alone to fight off the new American competition. The Air Force’s purchase of a proving flight for the Delta IV heavy lifter will further aid U.S. commercial launch by helping to lay down an early but existent track record.
But will these new, more affordable and flexible U.S. launchers come too late to take advantage of the coming explosion in new, larger KA broadband satellites? Or will heavy telecommunications spacecraft be such a large part of the commercial launch market that there will be enough to go around by decade’s end?
The struggles of the new reusable launch vehicle companies will get harder if space station resupply needs become the targets of commercial expendable launch providers, as signaled in the Arianespace ATV contracts with ESA. If station resupply and station access for experimenters becomes a strong enough market, Arianespace even with an ESA-subsidized ATV technology will eventually be joined by others, such as Japan’s H-IIA, proposed for resupplying experimenters aboard the Japanese Experiment Module.
The only clarity here is the obvious truth that the longer RLV providers take to get their vehicles flying and to market, the fewer identifiable, untapped markets will remain for their business. Consider that the era of space tourism may at last be upon us-but not aboard a winged spaceplane or commercial RLV but on board a 50-year old ballistic missile and a space capsule that has been launching for nearly four decades. Who among us would have ever predicted that?
And lastly will we see the first casualty of today’s tightened launch services market the small launchers like Athena and Taurus? Increasingly the vehicles of choice for only civil and military government launches, can these vehicle families exist on annual, single digit launch rates? And will a European and Chinese small launcher ever rise to scoop up any remaining commercial constellation business as the decade ends?
No answers yet to these questions. And no open forum for the exchange of issues common to all service providers.
Only a changing marketplace for launch services, an endless process of renewal and change almost as old as the rocket itself.
Note: Spacelift Washington acknowledges the work of C.P. Vick, Chen Lan, and Mark Wade in the data on Chinese launch vehicle performance contained in this edition.
SPACELIFT WASHINGTON © 2000 by Aerospace FYI Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction allowed with permission. The information contained herein are the authors own and are not affiliated with any other society, organization, or institution. Publication does not constitute endorsement of either editorial content or sponsoring web site.
Have information about space transportation? Email the editor at email@example.com