Long March 5 successfully launched

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The competition heats up: China today successfully launched its newest rocket, Long March 5, on its first test flight.

This was also the first launch from their new spaceport, Wenchang.



  • LocalFluffl

    Now China has the largest launcher in the world. They also launch their own crew to their own (yet small) space station.

    How does this compare to the capability of the USA, ESA, JAXA even combined? How incompetent and failed and corrupt is the Western space nomenclature?? How will we get rid of them?

  • Tom Billings

    “How does this compare to the capability of the USA, ESA, JAXA even combined?”

    Wellll, …the LongMarch 5 is about the same class launcher, as far as payloads are concerned, as the Delta IV Heavy, which has been launching since December of 2004, with payloads as heavy as 28 tons. LM5 is at 25 tons.

    “How incompetent and failed and corrupt is the Western space nomenclature??”


    The western nation’s state-sponsored launcher manufacturers are as honest as their political masters in Congress and the EU will allow their culture to be, …which admittedly is at best sketchy and ambiguous.

    “How will we get rid of them?”

    We will get rid of the agency costs of politicians, as a percentage of the costs of western space launches, only as much as we grow the completely private sector of space launch. That is still in its infancy, but it is birthed and growing. SpaceX now has the largest manifest of planned private launches on its string of any company in the world. Once Blue Origin begins orbital launches by 2020, SpaceX will have strong competition from not only ULA’s Vulcan but from the BO New Glenn vehicle for its Falcon Heavy. As others see profits from this they will enter the field as well.

    This will cause prices to drop. The Chinese have already stated they cannot meet the prices that SpaceX has announced for Falcon Heavy. They apparently simply did not believe that a private company could do what SpaceX talked about, whether from designed in expendable low costs or from re-usability. Their private companies looking at space launch claim to be planning re-usability. Some are truly private, while some, as Robert has noted, are using concepts more suited to mobile ICBMs than to large space launch.

    None of these concepts address what will happen as manufacturing spacecraft *in*Space* becomes more normal than launch from Earth. A space probe leaving its factory, and the Earth’s gravity well, from EML-1. between the Earth and the Moon, will have far lower marginal costs than *any* similar space probe launched from Earth, as will comsats, etc. Understand that within possibly a decade, and certainly within 2 decades, a space manufacturing company that does not own or lease a single launch from Earth will almost certainly undercut on a per function basis *all* prices for launches from Earth, which may be mostly confined to propellant, to raw materials and components not yet made in space, and to passengers.

  • t-dub

    I watched the launch live on YouTube, it was very impressive. You can see the replay of the live stream here:


  • Don

    Thanks to Bill Clinton.

  • LocalFluff

    @Tom Billings
    Manufacturing rockets in space? That is very very far off in the future. Google “I pencil” and see a classic illustration of how extremely involved process it is to even produce a pencil. At most a few bulk chemicals can be produced in space, for use as propellant, energy and life support. Actually manufacturing anything beyond a 3D printer, is not on the chart.

    Falcon Heavy has no priority of SpaceX. SLS is a Clinton sized bribery scandal without any intention of ever flying. Russia’s Angara 5 could soon take over as the world’s largest launcher. The Chinese certainly have further ambitions with their modular launcher system. The US is falling behind. All hope is with one individual who happens to be an eccentric internet billionaire. What if he changes his mind when he wakes up tomorrow?

  • Tom Billings

    Local said:

    “Manufacturing rockets in space? That is very very far off in the future.”

    There is no particular reason for that to be so. Look at :


    Tethers Unlimited’s SpiderFab is presently at a NASA Technology Readiness Level of TRL 5. By the middle of 2017, their Phase 2 NIAC Contract’s successful completion will place SpiderFab at TRL 6. The next step is to launch a prototype and demonstrate TRL 7. They will be at TRL 8 when the prototype design is corrected for whatever improvements can be done with the prototype data. TRL 9 will be full commercial availability.

    There are 2 more such commercial companies already developing their own technologies as well.

    “Actually manufacturing anything beyond a 3D printer, is not on the chart.”

    Whose chart??? 3d printing, as already demonstrated by MadeInSpace, is in place today on ISS. Once that is extended to carbon fiber composites by SpiderFab, and to metal by the other companies, we will have all needed structural technologies for manufacturing spacecraft in Space. If you want higher precision for some components of the structure as well as lower mass, then including one of the smaller CNC machines is quite possible. In space probes as much 95% of the mass is *structure*, while as little as 5% is sensors and actuators.

    “Falcon Heavy has no priority of SpaceX. ”

    Priority over customers who have contracted to have their sats launched by Falcon 9? No, and that is as it should be in a *commercial* enterprise. These developments are dominated by markets, not by national feelings of pride over “who has the biggest rocket?” As Arnold Toynbee said in 1884, “When a society shifts its allocation of resources from allocation by “custom and tradition” (read here, politics) to allocation by markets, they may be said to have undergone an industrial revolution.” We do not want to drag space industry back into the politicized decision modes of the old agrarian culture hierarchies. We’ve seen the results of that with NASA and Congress.

    “All hope is with one individual who happens to be an eccentric internet billionaire. What if he changes his mind when he wakes up tomorrow?”

    Not one billionaire, but at least several, actually. Elon MUsk, Jeff Bezos, Charles Simyoni, Peter Diamandis, Larry Paige, Larry Ellison (an acknowledged SpaceX investor), and others, distributed over several companies. These are people who have had their attention on spaceflight all their working lives, and are now free to fund developments for it. The idea that they will suddenly forswear a lifelong interest for some reason “X” is, …”quaint”. Killing commercial spaceflight *could* be done, but would require an international political push that at present simply is not visible.

  • Edward

    I am more on Tom Billings’s side on these issues.

    You wrote: “Google ‘I pencil’ and see a classic illustration of how extremely involved process it is to even produce a pencil.

    I do not need to do this search to know how involved manufacturing is. I worked in the spacecraft manufacturing industry, and I have seen how manpower-intensive it still is. I can see how commercial companies would do well by saving the launch cost of getting off the Earth. The purpose of a first stage is to muscle through the dense, resistive part of the atmosphere, directly battling gravity much of the way.*

    You may be more pessimistic than reality suggests. There is great interest by many countries and companies to explore and work in space, but access has been limited for many decades. Once they have easy access, such as with new commercial launchers, there will be a lot of demand for hardware in space.The Moon and asteroids hold a lot of useful construction materials, and early manufacturing may be in bulk materials, such as fuel and aluminum alloys, but the processes for making aluminum alloys and sheet metals from them can easily be transferred to the Moon or zero-G factories. There would be a heavy initial cost, but the long-term savings could prove useful in short order, if the use of space increases as expected with the lowering of the costs of working there.

    Manufacturing in space can be designed to take on all the processes that are done on Earth, although anything that requires gravity would have to be done on the Moon or in a spinning section of a space manufacturing plant. As Tom said, anything that can’t be made in space can be sent up from the Earth. I put things such as integrated circuits in that category, at least in the near future.

    Don’t put too little value on bulk chemicals. They will be the first things needed in space, as launching them from the Earth is expensive. The difference between the dry weight and fueled weight of spacecraft shows that Lunar fuels will save a lot of money and free up launchers for more Earth-launched hardware.

    I would not belittle 3-D printing. Plenty of manufacturing is done this way, now, and the industry calls it “additive manufacturing.” Even SpaceX uses it for manufacturing their Merlin rocket engines.

    When I started out in the space business, my first boss would pick up a chunk of aluminum and say, “your part is in there, somewhere. Take it to the machinist and have him find it.” Later, the machinist had CNC machines to find it for him. These days, the machinist doesn’t have to find it, but he can make it on his 3-D printer.

    SLS clearly is intended for at least three launches, and I suspect that it will make those launches. However, it is quickly being made obsolete by proposed commercial launchers. Since governments spend other people’s money, and can easily raise tax rates, they really have not cared much about the price of what they buy. This is a reason why waste and corruption are not routinely rooted out.

    Tom Billings,
    I do not believe that Peter Diamandis is anywhere near being a billionaire. When he proposed the X-Prize, two decades ago, he did not have the $10,000 prize money. However, he is a bold visionary who has the determination and tenacity to make great things happen. This makes him one of my heroes.

    His X-Prize made people stop laughing about the prospect of space tourism, and it looks like this one-time dream will soon be realized by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic (good luck to them both).

    I agree, for every of his other endeavors that is successful, he adds that much more to the successful commercialization of exploration and expansion. Space commerce is becoming a reality in large part due to those you listed.

    Although I do not know whether he is a billionaire, I would add Robert Bigelow to your list (although you did say “and others”).

    Although the billionaires are the ones showing the most success, there are plenty of other companies that are clearly dedicated to commercial space operations. Two decades ago, they could barely find investors, but these days they are able to find people willing to risk — and willing to lose — large sums of money on the opportunity to get in early on the coming commercial space boom.

    This difficulty in finding investors is likely one of the reasons for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program requirement, as a first milestone, of raising private funding before a deadline. If a company could find funding from the cautious private sector in a timely manner, then NASA could have confidence that the company and its management were sound. NASA was well equipped to evaluate the company’s ideas.

    The good news is that commercial companies have ways of doing business that do not cost nearly as much as the onerous costs incurred by governments working on similar space projects.

    * While the rocket is pointed straight up and has no angular momentum to counter the force of gravity, its gravity reduces the rocket’s acceleration by 1-G. Atmospheric drag also reduces the acceleration that the first stage can give to its payload. Depending upon the rocket, by the time the typical first stage is exhausted, it has raised the altitude to around 1/5th of Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and has imparted around 1/5th of the final orbital velocity to the payload, performing only about 1/5th of the whole task. Often, a second stage takes the payload the rest (or most of the rest) of the way to LEO, performing 4/5ths of the task.

    Notice how much of a rocket is used for that little lift. On the Saturn V, the First stage was about 3/5th of the height of the first and second stages. For the Falcon 9, the first stage is about 14 stories tall, while the second stage is about 3 stories tall. To be fair, perhaps 2 or 3 stories of the Falcon 9’s first stage enable the first stage to return for reuse, but the point is made.

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