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Is China's Space Race An Opportunity For the US? 164

Posted by samzenpus
from the silver-lining dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Lieutenant General Frank Klotz (ret.), the former vice commander of Air Force Space Command, writes that it's worth considering whether aspects of the U.S.-Russian experience with space cooperation can be pursued with China to serve long-term American interests. 'China has in many respects already reached the top tier of spacefaring nations — with profound implications for America's own interests in space,' writes Klotz. While initially starting well behind the two original space powers, China has slowly but steadily added accomplishments to its space portfolio, conducting nineteen space launches in 2011 — twelve less than Russia but one more than the United States. It's worth recalling that even in the darkest days of the Cold War, the United States and its archrival at the time — the Soviet Union — embarked upon cooperative efforts in space, most famously with the joint Apollo-Soyuz docking mission in 1975 and today the first stage of one of the rockets that currently lofts U.S. national-security satellites into orbit — United Launch Alliance's Atlas V booster — uses the powerful RD-180 rocket engine, which is made in Russia. Washington has called for enhanced dialogue with Beijing on strategic issues and for military-to-military exchanges to help reduce uncertainty and potential misunderstandings, however, in May of last year, the House inserted a provision into the NASA appropriations bill prohibiting the US from spending any funds 'to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company' and blocking the hosting of official Chinese visitors at facilities belonging to or used by NASA. 'This legislative action reportedly reflected deeply held concerns about protecting American intellectual property and sensitive technologies in the face of aggressive Chinese attempts to glean scientific and technical information from abroad,' writes Klotz. 'However, in the process, it foreclosed one possible avenue for gaining greater insight into China's intentions with respect to space.'"
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Is China's Space Race An Opportunity For the US?

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  • by vlm (69642) on Monday July 30, 2012 @08:57AM (#40816793)

    writes Klotz. "However, in the process, it foreclosed one possible avenue for gaining greater insight into China's intentions with respect to space."

    Luckily that avenue is risky and useless. Isn't a very early step in the decision making process "exclude the really bad ideas"?

    • by cusco (717999)
      the House inserted a provision into the NASA appropriations bill prohibiting...

      Once again Congress shows that lawyers and politicians are just ever so much better at creating a future for humanity in space than scientists and engineers. /sarcasm
  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... org minus author> on Monday July 30, 2012 @09:06AM (#40816881)

    The European aerospace industry seems to see the recent US ban on cooperation with the Chinese space program as an opportunity, and is stepping up [spiegel.de] cooperation.

  • by captainpanic (1173915) on Monday July 30, 2012 @09:06AM (#40816889)

    You can either cooperate. It means you have no unique intellectual property (IP) position, but through the widespread use of your IP you might get some benefits back like cheaper space flight. Also, with some luck, new orders for your own local economy, where that IP originated and where the most knowledge is available.

    Or you can protect the IP. No cooperation. Create an inflexible closed operation. Costs increase and without cooperation you'll have to invent everything yourself, or buy it under a license agreement. The best case scenario you succeed at being the first at everything. In a worse scenario, you pay for knowledge. In the worst cases, you either have no access, or you're violating someone else's IP.

    Look at the money being squandered on patent battles in courts in the IT and also manufacturing industries. Don't get space flight locked into a similar situation, because there's no way out.

    Cooperation through openness is the way forward. But it takes some balls to start doing that. (And please note that top managers and politicians, who think only short term, generally don't have those).

  • by vlm (69642) on Monday July 30, 2012 @09:11AM (#40816941)

    Since its topical, and in "space articles" we often get real rocket scientists reading, how does the oxygen rich preburner in the RD-180 work? I don't mean the "duh" stuff like how do you adjust the mixture, but what in the world are these guys doing for metalurgy such that you can basically pipe a metal cutting torch's flame around the innards of an engine? Or is it something totally bonkers like they use nozzle style film cooling inside the pipes and stuff (which doesn't help with the turbopumps, but...)

    I would assume if the russians ship working hardware to the DoD that whatever the answer is, its probably not classified.

    Also I might be dense here but isn't it harder to maintain stable combustion when oxidizer rich rather than fuel rich? Or maybe its just "different" for an industry used to running fuel rich?

    Do they use oxidizer rich preburner gas to cool the nozzle? I'm guessing they aren't that crazy and use the traditional nozzle coolant of fuel. Now a oxidizer regeneratively cooled nozzle would be bonkers, I don't recall anything that crazy. Maybe one of those weird solid fuel/liquid ox hybrids used liq O2 to cool the nozzle. I would imagine a pinhole leak in a oxy cooled nozzle would be a pretty spectacular failure whereas a pinhole in a fuel cooled nozzle is pretty much irrelevant until its a big enough leak to affect flow rates...

    The background is that the 170/180 are the only engines I can think of off the top of my head that run oxidizer rich... every one else preburns fuel rich because a traditional welder's cutting torch is an oxidizer rich flame and putting what amounts to a cutting torch inside a engine seems a recipe for disaster. On the other hand oxidizer rich would seem to eliminate carbon/tar/gunk buildup issues. Maybe if you're stuck using heavy tarry parafiny filthy liquid fuels, like cruise ship heavy bunker oil as a fuel, the oxidizer problems are easier solved than creating a whole new fuel refining infrastructure... Would be interesting to know the design tradeoff, assuming its not just "too many bottles of vodka"

    • The answers I've heard personally, is that Russian industry learned some metallurgical tricks (making alloys suitable for use in oxidiser-rich engines) back in the day, but aren't worried about losing the know-how, since the secret is in the manufacturing process. Supposedly, simply doing an assay of the materials in a shipped engine is nowhere near enough to reproduce the special alloys they use.

      • by vlm (69642)

        OK a coating makes sense in all regards. Analogy is its one thing to know a machine tool/drill bit has a thin anti-wear coating made out of a certain peculiar ratio of titanium and nitrogen, but its an immensely bigger problem to figure out how to make it and stick it to the underlying material.

      • by mbone (558574)

        Yes, I have heard pretty much the same thing. And, it's not like this is their state of the art any more.

  • by tomhath (637240) on Monday July 30, 2012 @09:13AM (#40816957)
    On the one hand, it sounds reasonable to work with China now when they have a reason to work with us rather than wait until they've passed what NASA can do. On the other hand, given their history they would almost certainly learn whatever they can however they can, then cease cooperating once they've sucked away all the technology anyway. I don't see any benefit to the US in working with them.
    • by k6mfw (1182893)

      rather than wait until they've passed what NASA can do.

      in some ways they already passed what NASA can do. At this very moment we (USA) cannot put people in space. Of course we have systems under development.Orion though I don't know when they will ever fly it. There is still no launch vehicle everyone agrees on. Then there's Dragon....... gotta wait and see how it turns out.

  • Oh, *that* was it? Slashdot editorial quality is in the toilet, really. I've come to accept incessant grammatical and spelling errors in summaries. But this is just lazy sloppy work. Please make a *summary* that is short, clear and explains why I should read the rest of the article.

    Or, to put it in terms that even slashdot editor could understand:
    tl;dr;

    • by Kittenman (971447)

      Oh, *that* was it? Slashdot editorial quality is in the toilet, really. I've come to accept incessant grammatical and spelling errors in summaries. But this is just lazy sloppy work. Please make a *summary* that is short, clear and explains why I should read the rest of the article.

      Or, to put it in terms that even slashdot editor could understand: tl;dr;

      You actually read the article? I was going to say you must be new here, but a 5-digit id... you must have been on a break. I mean, c'mon, this is slashdot.

  • A Space Race is usually a race to be the first at something, like going to the moon was. Unless they plan on racing to put a human on Mars, there is no Space Race worth devoting billions to.
  • Darkest Days? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by necro81 (917438) on Monday July 30, 2012 @09:33AM (#40817159) Journal

    It's worth recalling that even in the darkest days of the Cold War, the United States and its archrival at the time--the Soviet Union--embarked upon cooperative efforts in space, most famously with the joint Apollo-Soyuz docking mission in 1975

    That was great and all, but 1975 hardly qualifies as the darkest days of the Cold War. The Cuban Missile Crisis was certainly darker, and was right at the start of the space race. Kennedy had set the goal of reaching the moon just a month earlier, and no one would claim there was any collaboration in space for the next decade. Lobbing humans into orbit and lobbing nukes aren't all that different, after all. There were other dark times during the 1980s, and I doubt anyone would claim that was a great time for space collaboration, either.

    • by tomhath (637240)

      Lobbing humans into orbit and lobbing nukes aren't all that different, after all.

      Which of course was why the US developed the capability send a man to the Moon. Smokescreen for Kennedy's real agenda.

    • by Opyros (1153335)
      Agreed. In fact 1975 was part of the detente [wikipedia.org] period, and the joint mission was by intent a manifestation of that thaw in the Cold War.
    • The US felt safe until 1957 protected by thousands of miles of oceans. Maybe a few subs or balloons snuck in during the world war. But the first orbiting satellite in 1957 showed there was no place on Earth out of reach. Plus something going over you every hour and a half possibly spying on you. People felt very unsafe then.
    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      Kennedy had set the goal of reaching the moon just a month earlier, and no one would claim there was any collaboration in space for the next decade.

      Only because Kennedy was assassinated. He actually had a pretty good working relationship with his opposite number in the USSR, and there were serious plans to cooperate on getting to the moon. Then he died and that relationship went with him.

      It's a real shame because as well as reducing hostilities it would have pushed technology and space exploration forwards and saved money.

  • If the US really is in a cooperative mood, how about not backing out of the ISS program in 2016 or 2020? It hasn't even been completed yet and they already planning how to deorbit it.

    • No, we are not planning that. Do not be foolish. The issue is that we have 2 ppl out of 6 up there, and we are covering 2/3 of the costs. Likewise, we actually covered much of the initial build-out (again, something like 2/3 of it). That is just plain foolish. So, what is going on, is that we are trying to get the partners to start paying their fair share. That is only fair.

      But there is little doubt that we will continue the ISS probably until 2025. Or we will turn it over to our allies.

A penny saved is a penny to squander. -- Ambrose Bierce

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