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Dragon may eventually provide solace to U.S. manned space efforts

While highly anecdotal, an example of the arguably shifting balance of global power can be observed in the fact that China is now regularly sending astronauts into space, while the U.S. is, for the most part, grounded in terms of manned space flight.

I. China Continues Manned Flight Progress

China is planning a fifth manned space mission.  Slotted for June 2013, the mission will test an upgraded capsule-type spacecraft, which will be replacing the proven 3-passenger Shenzhou 9.

While crude by space-plane standards, the Shenzhou 9 performed remarkably well, safely ferrying Chinese astronauts (aka "taikonauts") into orbit.  In June, China sent its first female Taikonaut -- Liu Yang -- into space.  She helped the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft manually dock with an orbiting spacelab, which launched in 2011.

Taikonaut
China will send more Taikonauts into space in 2013 as it moves towards making its own space station. [Image Source: NPR]

China is also mastering the art of unmanned space flight. In June, its Shenzhou 8 automated capsule-orbiter successfully docked with the Tiangong-1 space lab, a Chinese orbiting laboratory that is performing zero gravity experiments on live fish, plants, worms, bacteria, and human cancer cells.

China has plans for an orbiting space station, which will go operation by 2020, and longer term plans of establishing a moon colony.  China initially considered joining the International Space Station (ISS) effort, but amidst trade tensions with the U.S., is currently pursuing plans for its own private rival station.  

The Chinese space station is expected to weigh around 60 tons, versus the much larger 400-ton ISS.  One major difference in the concept art sketches of the upcoming station, is a reduced solar panel footprint, this hints that the Chinese station may feature less power electronics.

China space station
The Chinese space station will be smaller than the iSS with less solar panels.
[Image Source: BBC News]

The unnamed upcoming station will feature two lab modules, a 20-ton central habitation module, and a pair of ports to allow a robotic supply capsule and a manned capsule to simultaneously be docked.

II. Shenzhou vs. Dragon vs. Soyuz vs. Apollo D-2 

The Shenzhou capsules are similar to the General Electric Comp.'s (GE) Apollo mission proposal (D-2), which was similar to the later Russian Soyuz capsule.  It should be noted that GE's D-2, Russia's Soyuz, and China's Shenzhou all have slightly different dimensions, suggesting that while they share a common design direction, none of the capsules is a direct "clone" or "copy" of the other [sourcesource].

Manned spacecraft
China's Shenzhou is similar to Soyuz in general design. [Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

America is currently ferrying astronauts to and from the ISS in Soyuz capsules.  It is finally expected to regain its own domestic launch capability sometime between 2015 and 2017, when SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Comp.) -- Elon Musk's private startup -- finishes its human-rated variant of the Dragon capsule.

With both China and the U.S. pursuing capsule-based designs, it's interesting to compare and contrast the differences.  The main difference is that the Dragon lacks a forward orbital module; limiting the amount of time the crew can spending in orbit.  The orbital and reentry modules cumulatively have 14 cubic meters of habitable space (8 in the unshielded orbital module, 6 from the shielded reentry module), versus approximately 10 cubic meters for the Dragon in the single shielded reentry module.
 
A manned version of the SpaceX Dragon (pictured version is unmanned) will be finished in the new few years. [Image Source: SpaceX/NASA]

The manned variant of the Dragon will be carried aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket (a refreshed version of the current Falcon 9 v1.0) with 5.88 Mega-Newtons of initial thrust.  Comparatively the Shenzhou capsules are delivered aboard a Long March 2F rocket, which provides 5.923 Mega-Newtons of thrust (reportedly) upon takeoff.

It's interesting to observe how that despite the differences in design, the final amount of thrust delivered by the rockets is quite similar.


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RE: Long Run
By delphinus100 on 11/12/2012 8:49:09 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
...and they have a lot more money to fund it with than anybody else.


But do they in fact do so?

Merely having deep pockets still doesn't insure that you throw a lot of money at your government's space projects.

And then there's the question of how long they can continue to be the economic force they appear to be...


RE: Long Run
By JediJeb on 11/12/2012 11:21:00 PM , Rating: 3
All China would need to do is sell back a few of the bonds they bought from us and we will be funding their space program if they ever need us to.


RE: Long Run
By ClownPuncher on 11/13/2012 11:22:12 AM , Rating: 2
We will be funding them with their own money? Brilliant!


"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997














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