Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
June 18, 2021

U.S. Excluded China From International Space Projects - It Built Its Own

There was a time when the U.S. was open to international cooperation in space. It gained prestige and influence from these projects. But fear of competition from China and Russia have led to attempts to exclude these countries from international projects.

In May 2011 Congress banned scientific cooperation with China:

A two-sentence clause included in the U.S. spending bill approved by Congress a few weeks ago threatens to reverse more than three decades of constructive U.S. engagement with the People's Republic of China.
Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), a long-time critic of the Chinese government who chairs a House spending committee that oversees several science agencies, inserted the language into the spending legislation to prevent NASA or the Office of Science and Technology Policy from using federal funds "to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company."

The European Space Agency as well as NASA were at that time favoring future cooperation with China on the International Space Station and on a planned Mars mission.

Since then other laws and sanctions have made the continuing cooperation with Russia on the International Space Station more difficult.

Banned from international space projects in which the U.S. is involved China went its own way. Ten years later it put a lander on the far side of the moon where the rover Yutu, the jade rabbit, is now pounding moon stones in his mortar to look for the elixir of life.

Last year China sent Tianwen, Heavenly Questions, and another rover named Zhurong, a god of fire, to Mars. It landed there in February:

"Tianwen-1 is going to orbit, land and release a rover all on the very first try, and coordinate observations with an orbiter," mission managers wrote before launch in the journal Nature Astronomy. "No planetary missions have ever been implemented in this way. If successful, it would signify a major technical breakthrough."

A week ago Zhurong, the fire god, took a selfie and sent it back to earth:

The camera, originally fitted to the rover bottom, was released by the rover at 10 meters south of the platform and captured the video footage of the rover returning to the platform and took the selfie. The camera then used a wireless signal to transmit the pictures and videos to the rover, which beamed them back to Earth via the orbiter.

"China will publish the related scientific data in a timely manner to let humankind share in the fruits of the country's space exploration development," said Zhang Kejian, head of the CNSA.


Yesterday China's space agency announced another success as three astronauts arrived at Tianhe, the Harmony of Heavens, which is the first module of Tiangong, the Heavenly Palace space station:

Three Chinese astronauts have entered the core module of China's permanent space station to embark on their three-month mission, becoming the module's first occupants and pioneers in one of the nation's grandest space endeavors.
Tianhe, the biggest and heaviest spacecraft China has constructed, is 16.6 meters long and has a diameter of 4.2 meters. The craft's weight, at 22.5 tons, is equal to the combined weight of 15 standard size automobiles. It has three parts-a connecting section, a life-support and control section and a resources section.

Meanwhile the International Space Station develops more and more technical problems and is becoming obsolete. Russia is now thinking of building its own one. It may alternatively add its own modules to the Chinese station.

Russia and China will also cooperate to build a permanent station on the moon:

China and Russia have agreed to jointly construct a lunar space station that will be "open to all countries," the China National Space Administration said in a statement on Tuesday.
A statement from Russian space agency Roscosmos said the two organizations planned to "promote cooperation on the creation of an open-access ILRS for all interested countries and international partners, with the goal of strengthening research cooperation and promoting the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes in the interests of all mankind."

The attempts to keep China and increasingly also Russia away from international space projects have only led to them starting competing projects. These are likely to gain more countries to cooperate with them.

The exclusionary policy of the U.S. has not been successful. In the end it resulted in a loss of influence over future projects for which China and Russia are inviting everyone but the U.S.

Humanity would be better off if we avoided such splits.

Posted by b on June 18, 2021 at 17:00 UTC | Permalink


Humanity is the last thing on the US agenda.

Full Spectrum Dominance is their mission.

Space dominance has been an imperative since 1957.

Both China and Russia are significantly behind overall.
However, both are gaining with critical technologies which will help both leapfrog in the coming years.

And, for the Lunar Missions, China and Russia are coordinating their major Lunar Base project.

Posted by: Red Ryder | Jun 18 2021 17:06 utc | 1

It is a purely racist reaction to the rise of China. Even now, go to sites like zerohedge and you'll find foaming mouthed rants against China, belittlement of Chibese achievements, and openly racist desires to eradicate the Chinese.

Given the relative competence of China and America, China is much better off with Amerikastani sanctions that forced it to develop its own capabilities.

Posted by: Biswapriya Purkayast | Jun 18 2021 17:07 utc | 2

It is a purely racist reaction to the rise of China. Even now, go to sites like zerohedge and you'll find foaming mouthed rants against China, belittlement of Chibese achievements, and openly racist desires to eradicate the Chinese.

Given the relative competence of China and America, China is much better off with Amerikastani sanctions that forced it to develop its own capabilities.

Posted by: Biswapriya Purkayast | Jun 18 2021 17:07 utc | 3

Hitler finds out about the Zhurong Mars rover's success:

Posted by: Biswapriya Purkayast | Jun 18 2021 17:09 utc | 4

Was China reciprocating (in the years before 2011)in openness to scientists and engineers and technicians in the field of space exploration, in rocket science, in metallurgy, in fast train development? I have read that for example Siemens had very bad experience with getting Chinese to fulfill the agreed upon exchange of data after the Chinese have built the magnetic train in Shanghai - they did not provide Siemens with the follow up data after the train was in use - these are important issues for engineers. Siemens provided the know how to built mag-lev...
I wonder if there is not too much leeway given to the Chinese in matters of technology exchange, this should be a two way street, and not that they get the know how, but they do not reciprocate. In my opinion, US and Germany have been too open for decades, with short term gain in sight.

Posted by: bystander04 | Jun 18 2021 17:17 utc | 5

bystander04@ 5


Posted by: Digital Spartacus | Jun 18 2021 18:00 utc | 6

The technical problems of the ISS seem to be normal. I can remember Mir having a lot of technical problems at the end of it`s life time, too. It will be interesting to compare the development of Mir, ISS and Tiangong in this regard.

Posted by: m | Jun 18 2021 18:06 utc | 7

I'd love to see joint cooperation China, Russia, and Iran that would get the DC Axis of Evil tied up in knots.

Wuhan lab leak narrative and Chinese scientists

The U.S. govt narrative keeps peddling how the natural origin story was PC in the hip, science community and was always void of scientific evidence by quoting dubious science writers like Nicholas Wade. The Lancet Journal is a particular focus of their wrath,

I scanned the Lancet Journal and found at least 5 scientific references supporting the natural origin claim. The only reason I could see why someone would claim that it was void of science is that all of the papers were authored by Chinese scientists. Really? Chinese scientists are to be dismissed out of hand without even reviewing their work, if not racist, it certainly is not scientific. The entire point of publishing is to allow for review, not for fiat rejection.

2nd narrative: Cleavage in spike proteins again promoted by Nicholas Wade, the astounding discovery of cleavage areas in the spike protein that makes Sars2 especially infectious to humans. I scanned the WHO report ...
and they start discussing these cleavage areas on page 83

Now I do not have an opinion or technical expertise to come to a conclusion. My point is that the govt narrative is clearly false and meant to evoke an emotional reaction. They make it sound like these cleavage areas prove gain-of-function and they are being totally ignored by the scientific community, they are evil traitors, burn them at the stake.

In summary, our govt is hitting the press by making claims about past scientific work to evoke an emotional response and are willing to lie about it.

Remember: "And the Truth shall set you free" (actually, I don't believe that. The Truth is a prison, a terrible, dark prison)

Posted by: Christian J. Chuba | Jun 18 2021 18:29 utc | 8

Red Ryder @1--

Where are China and Russia "significantly behind overall"? Does the Outlaw US Empire or ESA have a heavy lift rocket? If not, how will it return to the moon? Then we have the realm of Atomics--fission and fusion--where the Empire lags very far behind as my recent commentary and discussion of that topic have shown. Most significantly, where will NASA find the funds to return to the moon or build another space station--the privateers are mere glory hounds that aren't really going anywhere. Perhaps the biggest constraint on the Outlaw US Empire is its Neoliberal ideology that doesn't do any long term planning, which is precisely what must be done with a space program; thus the issue of funding for NASA--its reachable goals in the mid-1970s were trashed with Neoliberalism's ascendency over industrial capitalism that began the downward slide of its political-economy that's resulted in the ongoing crisis that began in 2007.

As b's article shows, the main problem resides within the Outlaw US Empire's Congress where very damaging language can be slipped into massive budget legislation that's never completely read and goes unpurged. The same is true with illegal sanctions on Iran that must be removed if the JCPOA is ever to be revived. Congressional zealots like Frank Wolf do more damage to the nation in their fanatical attempts they believe are made in its defense. And thanks to the Anti-Communist and Anti-Iranian Crusades, it's extremely difficult politically to attempt to get such idiocy removed from the books where they'll remain and damage the domestic economy as well as international relations.

Posted by: karlof1 | Jun 18 2021 18:30 utc | 9

Good report. The game is called Monopoly. Full Spectrum Dominance. Total Information Awareness. Show no mercy. Winner take all.

And racism. White supremacy is not hoods and robes but crowns and tea companies. Bananas and coffee. Jesus has blue eyes.

The US Empire has left its space program to billionaires. What could go wrong?

Posted by: gottlieb | Jun 18 2021 18:30 utc | 10

Biswapriya Purkayast @4, thanks that clip was hilarious.

When China's rover landed on Mars, here in Canada none of the English Canada national and local TV news that I follow made any mention of it. It's like it didn't happen. You would think that something like that is an opportunity for the world to set aside petty differences, find common ground, and celebrate an achievement for humanity.

It really shows the extent to which our so-called "free press" has been captured. Under Freeland-Justin, continuing from Harper, our foreign policy - government, news media, military, etc. - has been wholesale abdicated to the US and Five Eyes. Canada is no longer sovereign (to the extent that it was under, say, Pierre Elliot Trudeau or Jean Chretien) but is most definitely a suzerainty of the US/Five Eyes syndicate. (Thanks to Max for emphasizing the term suzerainty.)

It's the same with the predictable calls, including by Canada's parliament, to boycott the China-hosted Olympics, another event that is supposed to be about setting aside differences, finding common ground, and celebrating humanity.

Relating to this massive antagonistic US-led campaign against China, here's a wonderful 27-minute clip from Canadian YouTuber Daniel Dumbrill - packed with so many great points - that I saw last night:

America's True Goals and Upcoming New Propaganda Push

Posted by: Canadian Cents | Jun 18 2021 18:32 utc | 11

Canadian Cents @11--

The invitation by Russia and China to join the ILRS is very diplomatic and can be read here.

As for promoting the spirit of cooperation, here's Putin's answer to the last question of his post-Summit presser posed by Tamara of Radio Canada:

"Vladimir Putin: It is just wonderful that your nine-year-old daughter takes an interest in these matters. The answer is very simple. Just take a look around and say: “Do you see how beautiful our world is? Adult people, the leaders of two countries, the world’s two largest nuclear powers are meeting to make this world a safe, reliable and prosperous place for all people on this planet. They will discuss the matters of horrible weapons, which we need to scale down and to coordinate common non-use terms. They will speak about environmental protection, so that all rivers and seas are clean, without floods and droughts, and so that all people on the planet have enough to eat no matter where they live. They will talk about healthcare, so that our children feel well and are able to study and look into the future confidently.”

"Ladies and gentlemen, I would be delighted if you covered our meeting today from this angle". [My Emphasis]

You'll perhaps recall a saying from the 1960s that made its way onto bumper stickers: "War isn't healthy for children and other living things." Very few it appears took note of Putin's closing remark. Russia's all about Peace, although it is prepared for war.

Posted by: karlof1 | Jun 18 2021 18:49 utc | 12

Christian Chuba @ 8

Do some reading first.

My reason for disregarding the Lancet screed is that Daszak is MI6. Plenty of other good reasons. Wade makes many good points, does not change which team he works for. Disinformation specialist.

Posted by: oldhippie | Jun 18 2021 19:09 utc | 13

The U$A wants to protect its technological comparative advantage. However, where there is a will there’s a way! Necessity is the mother of innovation. China is determined to develop its technological competencies. BeiDou’s launch marked China’s rise to ‘major space power’ and military independence.

“In 1996, during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, China fired three missiles to locations on the Taiwan Strait as a warning signal against Taiwan’s moves for independence and full internationally recognized statehood. While the first missile hit about 18.5 kilometers from Taiwan’s Keelung military base as a warning, China lost track of the other two missiles. China asserts that the United States had cut off the GPS signal to the Pacific, on which China was dependent at that time for missile tracking. Consequently, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) woke up to the strategic vulnerability of having such critical military space infrastructure in the hands of a foreign power.

On June 23, 2020, China completed construction of its BeiDou Positioning and Navigation System (BDS) by launching the 55th and final satellite for its BDS3 navigation constellation. With this launch, China now enjoys a fully independent self-reliant global navigation satellite system (GNSS) as an alternative to the U.S. Space Force-maintained Global Positioning System (GPS). An independent BeiDou offers China augmented precision navigation and timing (PNT) for its military space forces.”

BeiDou’s completion does signal a new phase for China’s space capabilities. Also, it is a declaration of technical independence. Having a sovereign GNSS eliminates the problem of relying on the U$A or Europe for satellite navigation. China has incorporated state of the art anti-jamming and anti-spoofing capabilities in it. It gains a technological edge by developing its platforms.

Posted by: Max | Jun 18 2021 19:28 utc | 14

@8 Christian J. Chuba

Firstly, history should teach us to be very cautious about coming to conclusions as to when and where viral pandemics actually began. With HIV, for example, we now know it was circulating in humans probably in the early 1900s based o molecular data. Clinical specimens predate the US gay community epidemic by a few decades. Likewise, it will almost certainly turn out that covid was circulating well before the official date of the pandemic. We already have clinical specimens that pre-date the Wuhan emergence in both Europe and the US and it was widely circulating in Europe and North America before Dec 2019.

Next, even if we ignore the possibility of it the pandemic being a US false flag, or US involvement and funding for gain of function research at the Wuhan lab, or even the mysterious shut down of Ft Detrick’s bioweapons program in summer of 2019 (and the mysterious nursing home respiratory epidemic also in summer 2019 not far from Derrick), the lab leak just gets a shrug from me. Yeah, doing dangerous research has consequences—it’s happened in Russia, the US and other countries. A lab leak didn’t preclude the western world from acting sensibly and stopping it early like China did. China didn’t make the US fight masks or shut downs. But since the whole thing is about blame shifting and setting up a fake enemy, American’s will naturally take the path of making up nonsense. After this all passes we will find out a decade from now that this virus was circulating twenty years ago and just missed. But so long as “science” is beholden to politics and microsecond long American attention spans, we’re going to do the blame game ahead of collecting all the evidence.

Posted by: Mataman | Jun 18 2021 19:37 utc | 15

@ karlof1 (#12)..., thanks for letting us know that “fyi” is a troll in your previous comment.

Sovereign nations (China, Russia ,...) want peace so they can focus on their development and increase their gdp per capita. No questions here. However, the Financial Empire wants to capture these nations so it can build its global empire. China, Russia,... need to comprehend this reality.

Here are some of our future predictions from 2011. Please share what was missed and mistaken. How accurate it has been?

What are the goals of Monetary Imperialism?

Posted by: Max | Jun 18 2021 19:53 utc | 16

@Christian J. Chuba #8

Please don’t post off-topic comments. Comments about SARS-CoV-2 can be posted in the current open thread.

Posted by: S | Jun 18 2021 19:57 utc | 17

From Global Times, describing activities of the newly arrived 3 taikonauts
Setting up Wi-Fi, unboxing deliveries – Taikonauts busy 'housewarming' on their 1st day in space

The Chinese progress wrt. space activities is very fast indeed. The US must be scratching their heads.

Posted by: Norwegian | Jun 18 2021 20:01 utc | 18

karlof1 @12, thanks for sharing that quote! Would not have known about it otherwise.

I wonder whether Radio Canada (the French-language service of the CBC) reported those words from Putin in its TV coverage, given that it was a response to their question.

The English side, CBC News, our state news agency, certainly hasn't and likely never will. Positive words and actions from countries that don't submit and bend the knee to the Five Eyes syndicate are not to be reported on our state news agency's flagship TV news broadcast. That would detract from the "Two Minutes Hate" pieces they regularly feed us. For example, last night's national "Two Minutes Hate" session was a piece dredging up "news" (not) on unmarked graves in a Russian forest from the Stalin era.

Perhaps our state news agency is also trying to deflect attention away from the unmarked graves of 215 indigenous children recently found on the grounds of a residential school (a system under which indigenous children were forcibly ripped away from their parents in order to exterminate their language and culture - in other words, cultural genocide.)

Meanwhile, our hypocritical parliament voted at the end of February to accuse China of genocide but recently rejected acknowledging genocide by Canada, despite far, far greater evidence. Again, showing the extent to which our establishment has become a suzerainty to the US/Five Eyes.

Reading the parliamentary motion that accused China of genocide actually makes quite clear how much it was an act of abject subservience to the United States:

(a) in the opinion of the House, the People's Republic of China has engaged in actions consistent with the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 260, commonly known as the "Genocide Convention", including detention camps and measures intended to prevent births as it pertains to Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims; and

(b) given that (i) where possible, it has been the policy of the Government of Canada to act in concert with its allies when it comes to the recognition of a genocide, (ii) there is a bipartisan consensus in the United States where it has been the position of two consecutive administrations that Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims are being subjected to a genocide by the Government of the People's Republic of China, the House, therefore, recognize that a genocide is currently being carried out by the People's Republic of China against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, call upon the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Olympic Games if the Chinese government continues this genocide and call on the government to officially adopt this position.

Oh, so both the Democrats and Republicans, under both Trump and Biden, say it's so, and since our policy is to unquestioningly follow their lead, that's all our parliamentarians need to know.

And of course our captured establishment news media made no mention of that complete lack of sovereignty by our parliament - nor of the complete hypocrisy in their two different votes on genocides within the span of a few weeks.

Posted by: Canadian Cents | Jun 18 2021 20:05 utc | 19

A common comment I see over and over again on UToob and other such fora is "Yeah? Well we went to the Moon in... well, a long time ago!"

What these slack-faced, degenerate, devolved, chest-beating baboons in America ignore is that nobody like them has ever gone to the Moon, and none ever will. The people who went to the Moon were scientists and engineers, and real ones at that.

It has been mentioned many times, and I suspect the seriousness of the issue eludes many people, but China is producing nearly 5 million STEM graduates each year! Before the pandemic the United States was producing little more than half a million STEM grads per year, and if the scale of this workforce disaster for the US isn't already apparent to you then just remember that MORE than half of all graduate students in the STEM fields in the US are international students. The US would be lucky to be producing a quarter million domestic STEM grads per year... around one twentieth of what China is producing.

If that hasn't given exceptional American readers a chill yet, then you need to pay closer attention to efforts being made by so-called "liberals" in the US to improve "diversity" in American STEM studies. Are they addressing the harsh economic realities that lumpenize and discourage large sections of America's youth so that they might aspire to be more than a street thug? Of course not! They are dumbing down STEM studies so that a lumpenized street thug with no real academic foundations can "succeed" in those programs!

"You're racist!" exclaims the woke liberal, "You don't have to know Calculus to be an engineer! That's what calculators are for!"

Let me tell you a little story. I once taught a bridge program at a state feeder college for the big universities. The objective of this program was to shepherd students with "weak" (as in none) math backgrounds through freshman Calc so that they could go on to enter a STEM field at one of the big state universities. Obviously that ambitious project failed. The gulf between what the students needed to succeed even just in first year Calculus and what knowledge and skills they came to class on day one equipped with was just too great.

Taking a step back, the calculation aid from little over half a century ago would be the slide rule. It's useless for addition and subtraction. The student had to master arithmetic before a slide rule even became useful to them, and then using the slide rule would help build, at a gut level, an understanding of logarithmic, trigonometric, and other relationships. Students then would develop an ever more complex intellectual ability that math teachers refer to as "number sense". The student with "number sense" would be able to look at a mathematical expression and see meaning in it. At the lowest level they can tell that one number is larger or smaller than another number, and at a slightly higher level they can visualize curves from a polynomial, and at a slightly higher level again they can visualize things like the rate of change of a curve and so on. More importantly, they could visualize what these polynomials and curves and such represented back in the real world.

But to get to this level the student has to internalize arithmetic. All of the higher levels of number sense have as their foundations all of the lower levels. You cannot skip the basics and jump straight to "the good stuff" like Calculus. Or rather, you can memorize formulas and also memorize a number of different situations in which certain numbers get plugged into certain locations in the formula, and then be trained to know how to punch that into a calculator, but without the acquired number sense it is all just meaningless busy work.

Sadly, few of the disadvantaged students in the STEM bridge program that I worked in for a while had even the most basic of number sense. Teachers all through their primary and secondary educations had developed countless clever little tricks to get the students through the current math lesson plan without having to require the student know any arithmetic. The students become good at punching keys on a keypad in accordance with instructions on a worksheet, but then promptly forget the procedure after the lesson because all they were doing was hitting keys in a certain sequence and writing down whatever appeared on the screen. If they hit a wrong key or the calculator malfunctioned and gave them an answer of 2 million instead of 2, they lacked the number sense to suspect that the calculator is wrong and would just write whatever was on the screen no matter what.

You simply cannot make up for twelve years of lost learning time in a few hours in a college classroom. I eventually gave up and went to teach at one of the big universities where supposedly the incoming students would not have blown off their previous twelve years of education. Few of my students there were domestic students.

The point that I am making here is that not only is there no talent in the academic pipeline to fix things in America, but that pipeline itself is broken. There is all of this talk about a new space race, but America is like the obese couch potato in this race, and the Chinese have been training for running space race marathons for a generation. There is not going to be any race. There cannot be. When the US did its "space race" against the Soviet Union that happened at a very unique time when the American labor market was flooded with a wave of demobilized service personnel who eagerly took advantage of the GI Bill to get themselves educated, and that in a period of US history when scientists and engineers had something like rockstar status, motivating students in their STEM studies. None of these conditions exist today.

All of the carping you hear from Americans about China's space program successes is nothing more than the bitter bitching of the fat kid hurling abuse at athletes as they pass him by. It is impotent and cannot amount to anything.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jun 18 2021 20:06 utc | 20

I wonder if the Japanese feel some pangs of envy or regret at what could have been when they look at China’s accomplishments in space and other areas. They are a proud, intelligent, and rather xenophobic culture and it must bother them a bit to be increasing left behind, hitching rides on other country’s rockets, unable so far to even make a successful airliner or commercial jet engine- all things that a free independent Japan would probably excel at with their expertise in materials, science and management of quality assurance. Does anyone have a finger on the pulse of people there? The impression I get from the media (which I greatly distrust) is that young people in Japan have more or less given up and are drifting through life, and that there are few goals to inspire them. I have spent a bit of time there, but not so much since the “lost 30 years” really began to bite. Just wondering if it’s possible this chess piece could begin to move or wobble in some way.

Posted by: BillB | Jun 18 2021 20:16 utc | 21

Is it just me, or do the Chinese rovers have a R2D2 / C-3PO vibe? I do like the Martian selfie.

Posted by: jayc | Jun 18 2021 21:07 utc | 22

A Red Ryder #1 who says: 'Both China and Russia are significantly behind overall.'

This is exactly opposite of the facts. It is the US that is far behind Russia in crucial space technologies like engines and space station tech. China has now surpassed the US in engines [more on that in a moment] and space stations.

It is easy to understand why the layman would draw the conclusion you have done---due to massive hype in the US media about SpaceX. But consider this: the current US mars mission with the impressive Perseverance Rover got there with Russian engines on the Atlas V rocket. So did the previous US mars mission in 2011 which carried the Curiosity rover, and also the mars mission before that, plus ALL of the high-profile Nasa missions in the last couple of decades.

Despite all of Musk's lip-flapping about Mars, his spacecraft have never been chosen by Nasa for any mars mission.

The same is true for the US Space Force, which includes the National Security Space Launch program. The Russian-powered Atlas V has flown nearly all of these critical missions, which include the X37 spaceplane, high tech spysats, and even missile early warning sats. Nearly 90 successful flights in all.

SpaceX has been given just three NSSL launches, for only the fairly pedestrian GPS sats. It also launched one out of the six X37 missions. That's it.

Quite clearly the advanced Russian rocket engine technology is the workhorse for both Nasa and the Space Force, with SpaceX nothing more than a sideshow!

And let's not forget that the US was unable to fly humans into space for nearly an entire decade! A big Nasa technology contribution finally resulted in the SpaceX Crew Dragon, which has now made three flights---but Nasa is still booking seats on Soyuz, just in case!

And as for the ISS, that is in actuality a Russian space station. From the wikipedia entry on the Russian Orbital Segment ROS:

'The ROS handles Guidance, Navigation, and Control for the entire Station.'

That is the space station. The American and ESA modules are completely superfluous add-ons. The ROS is in fact MIR2, which was built already by the time the US abandoned its own effort to build a MIR knockoff, called the Freedom space station---which was killed on the drawing board due to serious technical shortcomings.

The US simply bought its way into MIR2 at the time that Russia was in dire straits in the 1990s. China also benefited greatly from the Russian space tech fire sale. Look up the Shenzhou program: they Chinese bought their entire manned program from Russia, lock stock and barrel---including the Soyuz spacecraft, life support systems, astronaut training, even space suits.

The Chinese also bought an advanced Russian rocket engine at that time, the RD120, which they developed into their own YF100. It first flew in 2015 and is an advanced, staged combustion cycle engine that the Russians invented and have been perfecting since the 1960s.

The US has yet to fly a staged-combustion engine, despite getting ten key technologies, plus a license to manufacture their own RD180s. Supposedly, the SpaceX Raptor engine is a staged design, also known as closed-cycle due to its high efficiency. But this engine has yet to fly into space. It is also a much smaller engine, about half the thrust of the RD180. And btw, the RD180 is one half the thrust of its bigger brother the RD170/171, which has been flying for decades, and puts out a monstrous 1.8 million pounds of thrust---the most powerful [and most advanced] engine ever built.

Engines are the heart of space technology, just as they are in aviation or even automobiles. The US is nowhere in this game. A lot of hype, but nothing to show yet. The SpaceX workhorse is the Merlin engine which is only 200,000 pounds of thrust, not even one quarter the RD180, and one-eighth the RD170.

And what about the reusability factor, which is supposed to be a game-changer? Well, nothing in engineering is free. It takes lots of propellant to land that rocket back down---propellant which could have been used to launch a much bigger payload. Go to wikipedia and look up Falcon 9. The expendable payload is 22.8 tons for the latest version, versus just 15.5 tons when landed back. That's a 46 percent increase in payload for the non-reusable version. And that's when the booster is landed downrange on a sea barge. If it has to come back to the launch site, the penalty is much higher yet.

Plus those engines must be torn down and rebuilt anyway, so there is little to be gained, except in certain situations where you don't need the full payload. But this is wasteful in other ways. It does result in lower costs, which is a real advantage---but if you have very valuable payloads that are worth several hundred million dollars, like advanced sats, then your main priority is reliability, not saving a little on launch cost. The Russian engines have an unbelievable 100 percent reliability record in 87 launches.

The bottom line is that the US capability, when examined from a professional perspective, has huge gaps in core technologies. That's not to write off SpaceX---they have a decent small, old-technology [gas generator cycle] engine in the Merlin and the Falcon 9 has made 121 flights, with only a few failures. It's a pretty good step up from where the US was after those two Shuttle disasters.

But it's still a long way from the technology that Russia has. And yes, even China has built on the Russian tech to now surpass the US in both engines and space stations.

Posted by: Gordog | Jun 18 2021 21:09 utc | 23

Meanwhile the International Space Station develops more and more technical problems and is becoming obsolete.

I disagree that the ISS is becoming “obsolete”. It is being regularly upgraded. From 2017 to 2021, the old nickel-hydrogen batteries were replaced by more compact lithium-ion batteries—a significant undertaking. In 2019, the radio channel was upgraded from 10 Mbit/s uplink and 3 MBit/s downlink to 600 Mbit/s. Starting this year, the old solar arrays are being augmented with new roll-out solar arrays. Water recovery system has been improved, carbon dioxide removal system has been upgraded. Of course, the ISS has a finite life span—it was designed to last 15 years and has been operating for 22 years already—but I wouldn’t call it “obsolete”.

Posted by: S | Jun 18 2021 21:14 utc | 24

That is the best FU selfie I have seen. I showed it to a 15 year old and was told at first glance that it was China saying FU to the USA. Plus they pointed out the three China flags.

I like the virtual grin on the camera head.

Well done China. This has dramatically liberated the space exploration science and simultaneously stated the east's equivalence with all nations.

Posted by: uncle tungsten | Jun 18 2021 21:15 utc | 25

@ Gordog

Wonderful post! Thanks for that.

Posted by: Digital Spartacus | Jun 18 2021 21:18 utc | 26

William Gruff @20--

Thanks for articulating what is assumed in my analysis of the situation--there must be money and minds, as neither goes far solo. And that's present in most other areas related to a MAGA-type policy proposal. I don't know if you viewed any of the video related to the construction of the Amur Gas facility I posted, but the entire process was the results of billions of engineering calculations given the project's immensity. What new innovation is being built within the Outlaw US Empire? Can you think of any cause I can't? Oh wait, I completely forgot the wave energy project that just started being implemented @ 10 miles up the highway from me based on technologies designed 15+ years ago but never allowed to leave the lab. And yes, the chief engineer/scientist in charge is a female immigrant from Eastern Europe.

After 1970, NASA lacked a vision that would keep the budget flush and the public--particularly youth--curious and eager about the next phase. You'll recall those years and the resulting clusterfuck that was Skylab, although the drama of its salvage into something useful was a bright spot for awhile. Maybe it's all for the best; if the Outlaw US Empire had established a lunar base, we'd certainly have space-based weapons now and a host of related problems--we might not even have made it this far given the Empire's First Strike mindset.

Posted by: karlof1 | Jun 18 2021 21:19 utc | 27

William Gruff #20

All of the carping you hear from Americans about China's space program successes is nothing more than the bitter bitching of the fat kid hurling abuse at athletes as they pass him by. It is impotent and cannot amount to anything.

Thank you William and bravo, well said. I see the current FUKUSAi dumping on China as entirely absurd and pathetic. I can only imagine how the Chinese perceive it. If this aggressive and undermining BS from the western gang is at this level now, then China may as well formerly incorporate Taiwan immediately as it 'aint gonna get any better anytime soon'.

I cant wait until the Chinese return a few kilos of Mars rocks to exhibit ;))

The western bulldogs are truly disgusting.

Loved your maths rant - perfect.

Posted by: uncle tungsten | Jun 18 2021 21:31 utc | 28

"Is it just me, or do the Chinese rovers have a R2D2 / C-3PO vibe?"

Posted by: jayc | Jun 18 2021 21:07 utc | 22

More like Wall-E or Johnny 5, for those old enough to remember.

Posted by: One Too Many | Jun 18 2021 21:49 utc | 29

Posted by: William Gruff | Jun 18 2021 20:06 utc | 20

In high school a slide rule was a luxury article, we had a little book with logarithmic tables, in one of the appendices the greek alphabet, it came really handy later on to grasp cyrillic real quick.

Excellent definition number sense, it is exactly the same thing as tone for music.

Posted by: Paco | Jun 18 2021 22:03 utc | 30

This is not debatable a great achievement in Science, actual Science instead of the usual social claptraps, now China can say they are at the USSR-level or more.

Posted by: Smith | Jun 18 2021 23:02 utc | 31

Smith @31--

China surpassed "the USSR-level" long ago. I regards to alleviating poverty, China has surpassed all nations that have ever existed.

Posted by: karlof1 | Jun 18 2021 23:24 utc | 32

@ many here;

The USA doesn't have a problem with design. If you take IPs literally, the USA still is light-years ahead of China and Russia.

The problem with the USA is that it can't put those designs to work anymore. It simply doesn't have the industrial capacity to put all those designs into practice.

There's an interview with a retired Chinese PLAAF general for Dangdai, from 2009, which I linked in this blog last year, in which he explains why China would easily win a war against the USA over the retake of Taiwan. His explanation is exactly that. Grandiose plans and designs are worthless in warfare if you can't mass produce them.

Now you would think: but then let's just restore Trump's "bring manufacture back"/"Made in America" policy and all is well. That's not the case: the USA is a capitalist country, and capitalism only decides to put something for mass production if its profitable. But thanks to Karl Marx, we know that, the more advanced the technology, the less profitable it is (Law of the Tendency of the Profit Rate to Fall). Capitalism has a historical period of ascension where technology marries perfectly with profitability, but, after that, a deleterious period commences (financialization period). And profit rates in the USA have been falling for well over 100 years: in fact, if it wasn't for the money injected by the Fed, profit rates in the USA would've fallen by 35% during the first year of the pandemic (2020). Manufacturing is never coming back to America, with or without the threat of communism.

Posted by: vk | Jun 18 2021 23:50 utc | 33

@ Posted by: karlof1 | Jun 18 2021 23:24 utc | 32

In absolute terms, yes. But, adjusting for the era, there's no comparison: China is still just a mere shadow of what the USSR was.

Posted by: vk | Jun 18 2021 23:50 utc | 34

@ karlof1

No, there are still billionaires there, and there is a private market, there is still unemployment, there is no free tuition, no free market thus China hasn't surpassed the USSR.

China right now is like 50s America, it hasn't reached the ideals of the USSR.

Posted by: Smith | Jun 18 2021 23:54 utc | 35

I should have "free healthcare" instead of free market. Speak of the devil.

Posted by: Smith | Jun 18 2021 23:55 utc | 36

Mr. : Gordog | Jun 18 2021 21:09 utc | 23

Thank you for your insightful comments.

So much in US is fake, including housing.

Posted by: Fyi | Jun 18 2021 23:57 utc | 37

Mr. S | Jun 18 2021 21:14 utc | 24

The fueslage is the major component which cannot be refurbished; with all that hard radiation, thermal stresses, and ion collisions.

Mir was in pretty bad shape, both externally and internally before it was abandoned.

Posted by: Fyi | Jun 19 2021 0:00 utc | 38

The US is way ahead of everyone in Fairy Dust, that's for sure! Lol! But in the real world, manned space exploration is dependent on Russian technology. It is not simply de-industrialization that has placed America there, it is a lack of vision. For example...engines. The US has yet to produce a comparable staged combustion cycle engine to replace the Russian engines it uses, even with the technology gleaned from the Russian engines. This is because America gave up on these engines in the 1960's, believing them too complex to build. As a result, they did not develop the metallurgy needed for the extreme chamber pressures such engines create. Now the US free lance companies play around with "low performance models of high performance designs".

Posted by: nook | Jun 19 2021 0:03 utc | 39

@ BillB

If you watch the japanese anime, you'd know the usual antagonists are the old men.

It's not literally senior folks of course, but the old men in the LDP who literally hold back Japan by kowtowing to the US.

I think the japs are slowly getting it, this pandemic and the No-Show Olympic is showing this harder than ever.

Posted by: Smith | Jun 19 2021 0:17 utc | 40

to get to this level the student has to internalize arithmetic. All of the higher levels of number sense have as their foundations all of the lower levels. You cannot skip the basics...

Excellent comment.

You can see the failure to learn arithmetic anytime you go to the supermarket and pay cash. If you are old like me, you will try to give the checker extra money so the change comes out as big bills. But the checkers are flummoxed and give you the extra cash back. Basic arithmetic skills are gone.

Also gone are the ability to read an analog clockface. With that are gone entire arithmetic concepts like "half past" and "quarter of".

Another loss is the ability to read a map. People just punch their destination into Waze and zone out. They have no idea where things are spatially.

I agree with you that certain things have to be memorized, to be available at an instinctive level. Arithmetic is one of those things.

Computer programming has been described as "playing mental chess". You have to keep large amounts of information in your head as you code - not just syntax, but data structures and function libraries.

All in all, the failure to train people to use their memory, to give them a pass on the hard mental work of "getting a feel" for things is the biggest failure of current education. The whole "woke" nonsense that "math is racist" just gives more excuses for teachers to let kids slack off.

Posted by: groucho | Jun 19 2021 0:20 utc | 41

You are a good dude,
But, I gotta say it,
For thousands and thousands and thousands of years,
It was horseie, horseie, horseie, horseie, horseie,
All of a sudden,
It's computers, satellites, smartphones, and (apparently) spaceships?
Just sayin'.

Posted by: Josh | Jun 19 2021 1:05 utc | 42


Posted by: Josh | Jun 19 2021 1:09 utc | 43

Posted by: Josh | Jun 19 2021 1:15 utc | 44

@ nook #39:

Exactly right!

About this: 'As a result, they did not develop the metallurgy needed for the extreme chamber pressures such engines create.'

Yup! The other factor is the oxygen-rich mixture that is required in the turbopump pre-burner for the staged cycle. If you've ever used an oxy-acetylene cutting torch, you know what happens when you squeeze the oxygen lever---metal instantly turns to candle wax.

It is an awesome piece of metallurgical engineering that the Soviets accomplished more than 50 years ago. Musk claims that his Raptor engine features such metallurgy [he calls it SX500, which stands for 'single crystal' an advanced casting method that aligns the entire piece into a single grain structure without discontinuities.] This has been standard in aviation turbines for many years, but just single-crystal is not enough for oxygen rich mixtures.

He has reportedly invested heavily in metallurgy capabilities in-house, which is a necessity, and all this is being kept very much under wraps. But the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, when the Raptor flies with observable results, in terms of payload, orbit parameters etc.

I expect eventually he will field such an engine, and it will be quite an accomplishment. But he talks a much much bigger game---many aspects of which do not seem realistic at all.

@ vk #33: 'If you take IPs literally, the USA still is light-years ahead of China and Russia.'

Not all 'technology' carries the same weight. 'IP' applies only to commercial products. Consumer electronics like smartphones, chips, software etc is all well and fine but has nothing to do with national strength, which is strictly a function of two technology domains: aerospace and nuclear.

Capabilities in these two areas are what separates the handful of major powers from the rest. Those are also the two most challenging technologies, and in both of them the US is losing ground quickly, without any direction from the top, while China is making big strides [with plenty of direction from the top], and Russia has got back into its Soviet-era stride.

Things like the physics-defying Avangard intercontinental boost-glide vehicle that skips along the top of the atmosphere at Mach 25 are not going to be found in any published IP. Nor is the scramjet engine in the Tsirkon hypersonic missile. Nor any of SpaceX's secrets.

We still live in a world where force is the ultimate decider. Making lots of smartphones like Korea does, may mean a good standard of living. But if you are a major power, with major rivals [aka sworn enemies], you first have to LIVE, before you can think about living well.

It all comes down to the higher educational output like Mr Gruff mentioned above. China is graduating a lot of engineers and scientists. Only a few out of any group will do anything notable, so the bigger your pool, the more game-changing people you will produce.

Posted by: Gordog | Jun 19 2021 1:20 utc | 45

karlof1 @27

I cried when Skylab was abandoned to just crash into Australia, but that period was still far more optimistic than today, even with all of the backsliding that America was doing after the Apollo program. American kids have no brightness in the future that they can see today.

On the other hand, Chinese kids today are on fire. Their optimism and enthusiasm for the future is palpable and pours out of them like a kind of psychic Cherenkov radiation. It is difficult not to develop sympathetic excitement when working with them. A year teaching there, or even just a single term, is highly recommended if one can spare the time. It refreshes the hope for humanity even of cynics like me.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jun 19 2021 1:29 utc | 46

uncle tungsten @28

Criticism from America really hurts the feelings of the Chinese people. They used to really look up to America. It is not so much that they take America's malicious criticism to heart, but more that it pains them to see their hero turn into a petty and whiny little bitch.

At least that is the way it seemed to me last time I was there.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jun 19 2021 1:39 utc | 47

groucho @41

Well, all of those changes that you point out seemed like good ideas when they were made. Who would have thought back then that people might lose touch with an instinctive feel for the analog nature of time, for example?

Then again, I keep hoping that changes like that might make it easier for the youth of today to conceptually grasp the underlying quantum nature of existence. Yeah, I know, wishful thinking.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jun 19 2021 1:48 utc | 48

Thanks b. This is really funny.
I used to liken AmeriKKKa's PTB to spiteful 10 year-old schoolgirls. But that modus operandi has been superceded by devotion to acting like tantrum-throwing 2 1/2 year-olds in a supermarket.
Smart Mums just keep walking to the end of the isle, turn right, and wait for the kid to re-connect with reality and Humble Pie.

Keep it up, Yankees! Nobody cares!

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Jun 19 2021 2:38 utc | 49

William Gruff @47

I don't get the impression that they spend nearly as much time thinking about the US as Americans spend thinking and griping and spitting about China.

Posted by: Billb | Jun 19 2021 2:43 utc | 50

@ William Gruff

It is kinda weird that the chinese used to look up to the americans, especially during the Dengist period.

I can't imagine the thoughts. So many countries to look up to, yet it's America they want to emulate.

Posted by: Smith | Jun 19 2021 2:48 utc | 51

. There cannot be. When the US did its "space race" against the Soviet Union that happened at a very unique time when the American labor market was flooded with a wave of demobilized service personnel who eagerly took advantage of the GI Bill to get themselves educated, and that in a period of US history when scientists and engineers had something like rockstar status, motivating students in their STEM studies. None of these conditions exist today.
Posted by: William Gruff | Jun 18 2021 20:06 utc | 20

Fast forward few decades, stars were still fascinating to Americans, but not science. In 1980-ies, I watched many episodes of Star Trek. The main location of the action, and the main prop was Starship Enterprise which had a disk-like unit in front where the command was, and the elongated tail with "science decks. In battles, all hits were to science decks, and nobody even bother to count how many people were lost there. Occasionally, there was a puzzle requiring answers, so invisible peons on science decks would try their best, but some young cadet in command would always solve it first. A very funny episode had the captain relive his youth, and in an alternative thread he made a tragic mistake -- he became a scientist. But he woke from the nightmare, and the episode ended happily.


More seriously, the majority of people never reach the level of abstract thinking allowing them to research mathematics or similar field like physics. But with concrete visualization coming from practicing arithmetic, functions of curves etc. they overcome the need to think "abstractly". "Abstract" and "concrete" are to some extend psychological aspects. If you draw curves by hand in exercises after computing guiding points and lines, you get familiarity that masks that, say, hyperbole, is an abstract object. You can operate with conics, logistic functions etc. (wish you luck with Riemann's zeta!) and be a successful engineer.

Posted by: Piotr Berman | Jun 19 2021 2:56 utc | 52

I was lucky enough to graduate from the school of mechanical and aerospace engineering that produced the founder of the company, the project manager and all the engineering team leaders that created the Apollo Lunar Lander (LEM). Which if you think about it was the most amazing part of landing man on the moon. It is the part that has not been replicated by the U.S. or anyone else in the last 50 years. It could not be tested in actual conditions, and had to work perfectly the first time. The tiniest flaw, bad gasket, bent landing leg or hose leak and two astronauts would have crashed in to the surface or been left on the surface of the moon to die a slow agonizing death. It worked perfectly the first time, and every time after that. Musk blows every third rocket he tries out despite radically better control technology, computers and knowledge from the past. That is what makes this achievement so improbable, and leads some to believe it was faked. But what it took was dedication, a quest for perfection, and 650 of the best engineers the world has ever produced. I had many of the same profs these pioneers did ( several years later) and can attest to the mastery and perfection they demanded. Current US stem students would go crying to their Mama if they had to face the hair shirt rigor these Apollo era engineers did. Our time has passed as we now turn out financial husksters, shoe designers and people who write code to post cat videos instead of first rate engineers. Good luck to the Chinese as perhaps they have the dedication we did back in the day.

Posted by: Seneca’s Cliff | Jun 19 2021 3:12 utc | 53

digital spartacus @ 6
you want links to my comment @5 - I am working on the Siemens story, but in the meantime is this link

Posted by: bystander04 | Jun 19 2021 3:40 utc | 54

Biswapriya Purkayast # 4

Thank you, that was one of the best Hitler rants I have seen in a long time.

Posted by: uncle tungsten | Jun 19 2021 3:49 utc | 55

karlof1 #32

China surpassed "the USSR-level" long ago. I regards to alleviating poverty, China has surpassed all nations that have ever existed.

Exactly. The next decades and hopefully centuries belong to those that have the civility and maturity to follow that path.

Posted by: uncle tungsten | Jun 19 2021 3:59 utc | 56

Biolabs USA May 2015: What, me worry??

A USA TODAY Network investigation identifies more than 200 biosafety level 3 and 4 lab facilities that work with dangerous pathogens - and reveals safety records that some of them fought to keep secret.

Vials of bioterror bacteria have gone missing. Lab mice infected with deadly viruses have escaped, and wild rodents have been found making nests with research waste. Cattle infected in a university's vaccine experiments were repeatedly sent to slaughter and their meat sold for human consumption. Gear meant to protect lab workers from lethal viruses such as Ebola and bird flu has failed, repeatedly.

A USA TODAY Network investigation reveals that hundreds of lab mistakes, safety violations and near-miss incidents have occurred in biological laboratories coast to coast in recent years, putting scientists, their colleagues and sometimes even the public at risk.

Oversight of biological research labs is fragmented, often secretive and largely self-policing, the investigation found. And even when research facilities commit the most egregious safety or security breaches — as more than 100 labs have — federal regulators keep their names secret.

NO NO NO... look over there... Wuhan.

2015? perhaps this paper might be relevant?
The researchers at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill however did manipulate corona viruses to make them more human transmissible. This is the article in Nature Medicine from Nov 9 2015 that spells out the damning trail all the way back to the USA. I know, they are persistent in denying its relevance. But there are so many papers.

Posted by: uncle tungsten | Jun 19 2021 4:15 utc | 57

Seneca’s Cliff @53

Perhaps one of those alumni was Thomas J. Kelly, who wrote a great little book called 'Moon Lander' about the Grumman team that built the LEM. My favourite bit: a story about the challenges of building space technology in the Jim Crow-Era South. Once the LEM program advanced to the testing stage it was necessary for Grumman to assemble a staff at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The problem? Grumman was based in Bethpage, NY, and a sizeable chunk of their engineering and technical workforce was Black. Hotels in Florida were very enthusiastic about helping to stick it to the Ruskies in space until this fact was mentioned. After being turned down everywhere, they had to fall back on NASA's political connections to secure rooms in Florida's 'Whites Only' hotels.

Westerners usually take such a condescending attitude to Russian and Chinese space technology: "I guess it's quite impressive what they achieved in their totalitarian hell-hole" etc. I like to remember that story every time I hear sentiments like that.

Posted by: S.P. Korolev | Jun 19 2021 5:44 utc | 58

@Gordog | Jun 18 2021 21:09 utc | 23

Excellent post, many thanks!

Posted by: Norwegian | Jun 19 2021 6:55 utc | 59

@4 thank you so mutch

I laughed my hangover off

Posted by: Kartoschka | Jun 19 2021 9:58 utc | 60

Piotr Berman @52: " get familiarity that masks that, say, hyperbole, is an abstract object."

Sure, people can lose contact with reality anywhere along the path of studying the nature and details of that reality. Hopefully you are not suggesting people are better off not trying.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jun 19 2021 10:20 utc | 61

Billb @50: "I don't get the impression that they spend nearly as much time thinking about the US as Americans spend thinking and griping and spitting about China."

Absolutely true. The Chinese have more interesting things to do than moan about things they can do nothing about. They seem very forward-looking these days. Still, if you are an American in China the issue will come up: "Why does America have to be that way?"

Posted by: William Gruff | Jun 19 2021 10:25 utc | 62

Smith @51: "...yet it's America they want to emulate."

It is difficult for me to say for sure as I grew up living amidst some of the aspects of America that don't show up in the glossy brochures, but I think the USA probably looked super awesome from a distance, all shiny and perfect with everyone smiling perfect smiles and cooking perfect hamburgers on perfectly pristine beaches. I think people elsewhere saw the fantasy of the "Good Life™" that the big business elites were selling to the American working stiffs to keep them putting in overtime to crank out Fords and TVs and toilets. People elsewhere in the world saw this purified fantasy life that was intended to drive American workers to work themselves to death to achieve, and those people looking in from the outside assumed that fantasy was the reality of America.

Just a guess as I didn't get out in the world much way back then. What I can say is that when I did get out and about, quite a bit of what the non-Americans I met thought about the USA didn't match what I grew up with. The image they had of the place was always far rosier than the reality I knew.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jun 19 2021 10:52 utc | 63

@ William Gruff

As a vietnamese fantasy/sci-fi nerd, I do like some Hollywood movies, but then again I like movies from all countries.

In cultural products, I don't think the US has ever had anything close to Greece, Germany, Russia, China or Japan.

I was never entertained with all "american culture" i.e. consumerism the Pepsi, Coca Cola and McDonald (McDonald sucks ass, I don't know why people like it so much). I do like the gun right/Second Amendment, but that turns to be just gun fetish and consumerism, it doesn't do anything impactful IRL.

What's weird is that I found recently that the chinese really loved Friends (the New York comedy show).
Maybe a lot of English teachers visited China or something, because I remember one English teacher used the show as a material in one of my English class, never got the hook for it.

American TV shows-wise, I'm more of an Adventure of Sinbad, Hercules and Xena fan.

Posted by: Smith | Jun 19 2021 11:27 utc | 64

Biswapriya Purkayast @ 4:

Sheer comedy gold: "... don't worry, he doesn't know we think Zhurong is cute ..." and the last line especially about faking news to say China infected Mars with COVID-19 literally cracked me up.

I've shared the video with Rebecca Chan's 21SilkRoad 2.0 Facebook page.

Posted by: Jen | Jun 19 2021 12:11 utc | 65

Smith @64

Most popular TV show ever, American or otherwise: Baywatch

In the 1980s to early 1990s everybody in Europe, and in particular the Soviet space, watched "Dallas" and "Dynasty". More than anything else the illusion of American normality people thought they saw under the surface in those two shows was what destroyed the Soviet Union. Kinda like people today watching and analyzing Japanese anime to dig out a feel for living in Japanese society that supposedly leaks into the shows from the writers' and artists' assumptions of normality. It is not that people so much liked the themes and plots and script writing of those American shows but rather they felt they were peering into the soul of a different culture. That vision of American culture the Europeans thought was just unintentionally revealed in those shows was actually entirely fabricated and deliberately inserted into the shows as part of the brainwashing of the American public. It unexpectedly turned out to work all too well on Soviet citizens.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jun 19 2021 13:19 utc | 66

Groucho @ 41

It is even worse than that. I am a cyclist. I ride occasionally with those who have only ever navigated by GPS. There is a 6 way intersection nearby that is found on a popular ‘ride with GPS’ route. The bike riders are directed to make a right hand turn and every time they miss the tight near turn onto a narrow street and make the easy shallow turn onto a wide street. Which is a busy commercial street. And a one way street. There is then a gaggle of cyclists going the wrong way against heavy traffic. Seeing the mistake all of them, every time, direct 100% of their attention to the computer screen mounted on their handlebars. Look at traffic? Never, if one can look at pixels instead.

Have also seen two run their bikes into the back end of parked trucks while staring at the screen.

Same people constantly ask me how I know where I am with no GPS. The answer is that with GPS they never know where they are. With an internal map I always do. Not comprehensible to those who have given their souls to the digits.

Posted by: oldhippie | Jun 19 2021 14:08 utc | 67

Billb @ 50

I don't get the impression that they spend nearly as much time thinking about the US as Americans spend thinking and griping and spitting about China

I don't live there, but I seriously doubt that most Americans spend any time 'thinking and griping and spitting' about China. It seems they spend a fair amount of time griping about things American, though, justifiably. No doubt the Chinese reciprocate this griping about their own situations, though I agree with William Gruff that they seem to be very forward-looking these days, at least as far as I can attest from the Chinese community here in my town, most of whom come from poorer parts of the homeland.

In fact, one wonders why a guy like Gruff, who seems to be knowledgeable and genuinely enthusiastic about all things Chinese, who apparently has resources and language skills, spends his time griping about all things American. Why not go live in China and enjoy natural immunity, rather than the engineered kind? Why not take part in the flourishing, cognitive framework emanating from all those hutongs? Just askin'...

...and hey, they might even pay for any glorifying dispatches!

Posted by: john | Jun 19 2021 15:37 utc | 68

@ Posted by: john | Jun 19 2021 15:37 utc | 68

I think Americans care about other countries when their Government tells them they must care about them, e.g. the Invasion of Iraq, Invasion of Afghanistan, Destruction of Libya, Invasion of Syria, Destruction of the Ukraine.

In all of those cases, the factor in common is imperialism: Americans tend to believe and rally behind their Central Government against other nations (Federal Government) when they associate the need of subjugation of said nations with the maintenance of their way of life (American Dream, American Way of Life). For example, the direct association between destroying Iraq with vengeance against 9/11 AND ("while we're at it...") lowering the price of the gallon of gas to less than USD 0.90 (therefore, restoring American purchase power). That those adventures ended up fueling anti-Muslim hate and fundamentalist Christianism is just the inevitable collateral effects of such kind of operations, the small price to pay to keep the vibrancy of the Empire.

A clear parallel of this phenomenon can be observed through Bernie Sanders' last tweet on China: in just one paragraph, he associated the need 1) to effectively destroy China through economic sanctions because of the fake Xinjiang Uighur genocide, 2) fight slave/forced labor worldwide and 3) the promotion of the typical trade-unionist/social-democratic agenda within the USA. He went from your bread-and-butter labor rights activism to an outright imperialist agenda against China (and every other nation that dares to get into the way of the Empire). No mention, of course, of slave children labor in cocoa extraction in Ivory Coast - one of the oldest worst kept secret of post-war capitalism.

Now, it's true that the degeneration of the Empire resulted has started to manifest itself into the fragmentation of that method. Americans are now polarized between liberal leftists (Democrats) and fascist rightists (GOP), and each side is using this same method of association to advance not the interests of the Empire per se, but of their own faction - each of which claim to embody the true essence of the Empire as a whole. That means that, in the name of the whole Empire, each of the two factions are using their own carefully crafted imperialist narrative to advance their own factional interests, and not the Empire's. Examples of this are Russiagate and, during Trump, Anti-China hysteria.

So, my take is this: Americans don't see - and can't see - any distinction between foreign and domestic policy. To them, domestic policy is foreign policy, and foreign policy is domestic policy. They're an empire after all, and to a hammer everything smaller is a nail.

Posted by: vk | Jun 19 2021 16:35 utc | 69


I think at this juncture Americans are having a hard time distinguishing much of anything, a condition symptomatic of detachment and ignorance.

I can no longer tell how resourceful they are.

Posted by: john | Jun 19 2021 17:07 utc | 70

I sometimes wonder how much influence from Japan played a part in the US decision to ban cooperation with the Chinese. This of course not ignoring the main reason, Empire.

In any case, the Chinese definitely have fire in their bellies for all things Space. I can't wait to see when their space plane becomes a reality. Criticize all you want about the STS / Buran, but I will always look back fondly of them.

One thing nice is that China have stated they give developing nations priority access to their Space station.

Posted by: Ian2 | Jun 20 2021 2:59 utc | 71

William Gruff @47

Criticism from America really hurts the feelings of the Chinese people. They used to really look up to America.

This is quite true. Few people in the West have any idea of the goodwill and admiration that the Chinese [used to?] have for the US.

Less than a decade ago I went to Beijing for some work conference that barely had anything to do with me. We had established a presence in China and were rapidly expanding. The venue for the formal dinner featured portraits of Chinese leaders, and of Obama! The university bookshops featured huge stacks of Obama's autobiography. Clearly not even China was immune to the charisma of the Great Fraud himself, and somehow considered America's own alleged and fraudulent advances in race relations as somehow significant for the whole human race. He was a star, and America was loved.

I was quietly and sadly appalled at the sweet naivete of the Chinese. Didn't they understand the US was really their enemy? That all this would be dreadfully embarrassing to them in only a few short years, when it would be suddenly made plain to them how much they are hated just for going their own way?

I really hope that everyone in China now understands that everything said in the West is lies, and that we want nothing more than to have our troops in Beijing again as we Balkanize the country into two dozen versions of the Philippines.

Posted by: Herr Ringbone | Jun 20 2021 9:22 utc | 72

I was quietly and sadly appalled at the sweet naivete of the Chinese. Didn't they understand the US was really their enemy? That all this would be dreadfully embarrassing to them in only a few short years, when it would be suddenly made plain to them how much they are hated just for going their own way?

Posted by: Herr Ringbone | Jun 20 2021 9:22 utc | 72

Thankfully, the CPC leadership isn't as naive as the common people. They study the Soviet Union, they study Gorbachov and his character, and how his naivete costed the Union. They know the US as a state could be engage in trade despite its leader hated them with passion.

Posted by: Hangar | Jun 20 2021 14:43 utc | 73

Actually, China has taken several pages from the NASA playbook and created more space 1999 science fiction. Their space program is mostly window dressing, just like NASA's from the 60s to the present (and now "SpaceX" -- which, like Musk, is a complete CG/moneylaundering farce. "SpaceX" literally means "space-out", btw, an apt descriptor).

Posted by: Sizemore | Jun 20 2021 16:05 utc | 74

I saw a comment stating that Russia and China
are significantly behind US in space technology
I am surprised greatly by the assessment.
Mission to Mars was a great success. Keeping in
mind the cumulative experience of previous
missions as well as earlier Soviet experience.

Russia has moved forward with its space
exploration by establishing the first space station,
and later Russia build the current space station.

For years Russia supplied it via unmanned craft,
and transported crews to and from the station
for nearly a decade. US has no experience
in space station building, control or life support.
None of it is novel technology, but will still require
effort to build it from scratch.
Russia’s contractual commitment to space station
was a burden. Being free from it would allow resources
to be used on new endeavors. Moon mission is one if them.

While here in US, Amazon is challenging Space-X for
the Lunar lander. While we are into contract disputes
among prima-donnas, Russia will be launching its first
version of lander in fall.
We are really behind in many ways. Why, for example
we are still using Russian RD-180 engine for the first
stage in lifting our heaviest rocket — Atlas V.

Posted by: Bianca | Jun 20 2021 17:36 utc | 75

The moral of the story is that excluding them doesn't work once their technology has advanced beyond your level. All it accomplishes is that the inferior technology excluder becomes the inferior technology excluded.

Posted by: exiled off mainstree | Jun 20 2021 22:56 utc | 76

Quite amusing really. With some in America having an insatiable appetite for resources, space has become the next theatre of war & capitalism in their minds. With wet dreams about trillion dollar asteroids and such like. The decline in Russia's space expertise, means only China has any chance of competitiveness. Europe has know-how but never the desire to put much money into it.

Also amusing that the only reason why space tech has moved on over the last 50 years or so is due to Space Exploration Technologies Corp. I think Musk is the real deal, a super nerd who wants to make sure human civilisation continues.

@Gordog 23

I agree with what you say but you underestimate SpaceX. Russian engine tech was by far the best but hasn't moved in 20+ years. The Falcon 9 booster B1051 has flown 10 times now with a turn around time as low as 38 days. SpaceX claim that their current stage 1 Falcon 9 boosters only need an inspection before reuse. No need to refurbish like the Space Shuttle.
Reuse reduces payload but greatly reduces cost. Rockets tend to scale well but obviously cost more when bigger. If you can reuse your big expensive rocket then you win on payload and cost.
Part of the reason why SpaceX engines are smaller and less powerful than their Russian counterparts is so they can use a lot of engines and use fewer during landing. Throttling a rocket engine down to very low levels is very hard if not impossible. Rockets that don't land don't need to do this.

Posted by: Mighty Druken | Jun 21 2021 12:42 utc | 77

Just as a side note about the clustered smaller engines on Musk’s Falcon 9 and potentially the Super Heavy, an added benefit is some degree of fault tolerance. It is possible for one engine out of a cluster to fail and that not result in a Loss of Mission event because the remaining engines in the cluster can throttle up to compensate. Of course this is assuming the engine failure isn’t a catastrophic one and the failure doesn’t occur in the earliest stages of the launch.

This has even better potential for cost reduction. With sufficient experience with engine failures and recovering from those failures (SpaceX has had one such event that I know of so far) it should become possible to safely use the engines until they fail with no overhaul between launches. You won’t need 100% perfection to have confidence in mission success. This dramatically reduces costs, allowing for hundreds of reuses of the engines and dramatically lowering turnaround time and costs. With sufficient failure analysis they can get away with just replacing failed engines and rebuilding those.

This aspect of SoaceX’ business plan is one that I hope the Chinese are watching closely.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jun 21 2021 13:55 utc | 78

@ Gruff #78 who says: the clustered smaller engines on Musk’s Falcon 9 and potentially the Super Heavy, an added benefit is some degree of fault tolerance.

Not really. The more engines you have, the higher the mathematical probability of an engine failure. No engine can be guaranteed to be 100 percent failure-proof. Even if the engine failure probability is just one percent, having nine engines increases the overall chance of failure of the entire launch vehicle to nine percent.

This has been proven in aviation, where more engines means more of a chance of an inflight engine shutdown.

The ability to increase power on the remaining engines to make up for the loss depends on the amount of reserve power available, which, in turn, depends on the payload. If you are near full payload, there will not be much reserve power available. The loss of one engine will most likely mean that the orbit will not be achieved, since orbit is a function of SPEED, and speed is a function of engine power. In the worst case, the engine failure takes out the entire vehicle.

The fact is that not most SpaceX launches are nowhere near the maximum payload, so the engines don't have to work as hard. This is what is mostly responsible for the Falcon 9's good track record---although it has had an inflight catastrophic failure in 2015 with the CRS [commercial resupply services] flight to the space station, plus a launch pad catastrophic failure in 2016. Also a failure in 2012 that resulted in the loss of a sat due to failure to achieve orbit [so it can probably be chalked up to an engine issue].

The Falcon Heavy has only flown three times, and its heaviest payload was the 6.5 ton Arabsat in 2019, just one-quarter of its advertised payload to the high geosynchronous transfer orbit [GTO]. By comparison, the Atlas V with the single RD180 engine has lifted 4.75 tons to GTO on numerous missions, which is 100 percent of its advertised payload.

The Falcon Heavy has 27 engines, and is advertised as being able to lift ~64 tons to LEO. Each of those strap-on side boosters is basically a Falcon 9, with 9 Merlin engines each. This vehicle has NOT yet been certified by the NSSL:

'[Falcon Heavy] is not certified for all of our most stressing national security space orbits. Thus, the USAF is working with SpaceX to mature their Falcon Heavy's design.'

---Lt Gen Thompson, commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.

Look folks, it takes TIME and many flights to perfect rocket engine technology. Soyuz has flown into orbit 1,700 times. Proton has flown over 500 times. SpaceX has just under 130 flights at this time, [btw, a good chunk of those SpaceX flights were to launch its own Starlink internet sats]. The Saturn V rocket of the Apollo program flew just 13 times before it was abandoned. The Shuttle flew 135 missions, with two catastrophic, inflight failures, which caused it to be abandoned.

The Russians have been steadily developing the advanced closed-cycle technology they invented since the 1960s. These engines are now bulletproof. They are in fact designed for reuse. The big RD171 is designed for multiple reuse and has been tested for 20 consecutive runs.

The US is just now starting to develop its own closed-cycle engines. I have already talked about the challenges of that in my #45 post above. SpaceX was not even able to develop the turbopump, which is the heart of a rocket engine, for its Merlin engine. It was designed and built by Barber-Nichols. No word on whether that capability has since moved in-house, since SpaceX is incredibly secretive and publishes nothing in the professional literature.

@ Mighty Druken #77, who says: Russian engine tech was by far the best but hasn't moved in 20+ years.

Where did you pick up that information? Are you an aerospace engineer who has consulted with Russian rocket engine firms like Energomash or Chemical Automatics? Have you even traveled to Moscow or Samara [aka Rocket City] to take a tour of some of the facilities?

You don't get a PERFECT flight record like the RD180 by accident. [And as I mentioned above, most of these launches are with close to full payloads, unlike Falcon 9]. Which is why they are the go-to engines for both NSSL and Nasa.

The Russians have not only kept perfecting their unique closed-cycle technology in existing engines, but have brought a number of new engines online in recent years, like the RD190 family, which was started flying in 2009. This engine is half the thrust of an RD180, and one quarter of the RD171. It is also exported to the US, and is the main engine in the Northrop Grumman Antares Rocket. Thrust is about 450,000 pounds [double a Merlin].

There are several other brand new engine designs, but I'm not going to get into all of that here. But what you said is complete nonsense. Russia graduates twice as many engineers as the US [Forbes ran a story on this] and they are the undisputed leaders in rocket engine technology. And by a very big margin.

As for using a lot of small engines, like SpaceX does, this has an inherent disadvantage that I already mentioned. More engines equals more chances of one failing. So SpaceX has been consistently flying with much smaller payloads that don't tax the engines. And btw, used engines must still be torn down to be INSPECTED.

The reason they don't make big engines is because that is much HARDER. Big engines bring big challenges. For instance combustion instability in those big combustion chambers. The F1 engine on Saturn V was plagued by combustion instability that caused serious vibration issues. Look that up, there is plenty of meaty technical material on this.

The RS25 hydrogen-burning engine for the Shuttle had the same kind of combustion instability problems. In 2018, an RS25 engine burst into flames on a test stand at Nasa Stennis after shaking violently. This was part of engine tests to revive this engine for the SLS project.

This vibration due to combustion instability was originally addressed with acoustic resonance chambers on the RS25, and a similar workaround on the F1, but this is not a true fix. The solution to combustion instability in big engines was found by the Russians decades ago, and it is to have a curved, or hemispherical injector surface where the fuel and oxydizer spray orifices are located, instead of a flat injector plate as used on American engines. The Russian hydrogen engine developed as an analog to the RS25 for the Buran shuttle never had any instability problems, and also produced higher specific impulse at a lower production cost due to simplified design.

Some of those design elements were copied by Rocketdyne when it developed the RS68, which is a bigger, but simpler hydrogen engine [Used in the Delta IV rocket]. Notably the thrust chamber regenerative cooling scheme was lifted directly from Russian practice. The US previously used tubes that were formed into the bell-shaped chamber shape. But the Russian method of inner and outer shells with corrugated surfaces on the inside where the fuel flows through, results in much more effective cooling than running the flow through tubes. This is due to the physics of heat transfer and has to do with greater surface area resulting from the folded corrugations and that surface area being in closer proximity to more of the fuel molecules flowing past. Also things like Reynolds number and other technicalities that I'm not going to get into right now. But tubes are far from ideal for heat transfer because most of the fluid flow is in the middle, far from the wall surface where heat transfer takes place by means of the kinetic motion of the molecule colliding with the wall.

This is just one example of the absolutely fascinating details in Russian rocket science. There is also amazing metallurgy and much much more.

The Russians are true masters at rocket engines. After many decades of world-leading engineering, it is deeply established in their institutional DNA in places like 'Baumanka.'

That doesn't just happen overnight, especially in some kind of for-profit scheme. A well-kept secret is the high turnover rate of engineers at SpaceX [there is some discussion on Reddit]. The pay is low and the hours long and the benefits nil. Once the novelty of working on rocket engines wears off, engineers go elsewhere to make a decent living, after an average of about two years.

But Musk doesn't mind spending big on publicists and PR hype. That's not how you build a rocket company. Most everything he says is basically self-touting BS.

I have just touched the surface here. For an in-depth professional-level discussion one could write a book about how huge the gaps are in US space technology and how far behind it is. Other than Falcon 9 and the mostly NASA-developed Crew Dragon, everything else is solidly in the vaporware category. Those new engines from Musk and Bezos are going to take years to shake out and prove themselves. And in fact, I have little confidence that they are ever going to demonstrate the kind of measurable performance we see with the Russian engines.

Posted by: Gordog | Jun 21 2021 17:13 utc | 79

Gordog @79--

Thanks for your long appraisals! They confirmed much I already knew. IMO, China's following Russia's lead in incessant testing and aiming for perfection. Their combination ought to produce a great team and results.

Posted by: karlof1 | Jun 21 2021 18:14 utc | 80

Gordog | Jun 21 2021 17:13 utc | 79

Absolutely fascinating. It is a pity that correct appraisals of the relative capabilities of leading Nations are not more often seen. I really have learnt a lot.

Posted by: Stonebird | Jun 21 2021 18:36 utc | 81

Thanks, Karlof and Stonebird. I can go into much greater detail, but don't want to bore people with a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo, lol!

Btw, I made a couple of small errors: The Soyuz has actually flown 1,900 times; the Proton 425 times, and the Zenit 75 times. So that is about 2,400 flights for the main Russian workhorses.

The Zenit rocket [ie the fuselage and propellant tanks] is made in Ukraine as part of Yuzhmash, so after 2014 that relationship broke down. It's powered by the Russian-made RD171 engine of 1.8 million pounds thrust. Just the turbopump on that monster puts out 230,000 horsepower!

It's important to note once again that engines are the key. The rocket itself is mainly fuel and oxydizer tanks, so that is the easy part. Just like in aviation, the fuselage is the least important part [although EVERYTHING has to work without fail].

In a rocket, the main goal is to make the fuselage and tanks as light as possible, which increases the payload fraction [ie what percentage of the starting mass of the rocket is actual payload].

In that Falcon Heavy I mentioned with its only-ever real payload, Arabsat, of 6.5 tons, the payload fraction is miniscule compared to the rocket mass of 1,420 tons---just half of one percent!

The Atlas V that regularly launches 4.75 tons to the same GTO orbit has a mass of just 333 tons, for a payload fraction of 1.5 percent. Of course payloads for low earth orbit will be much higher and thus higher payload fractions, but if you look at the individual launches of Falcon 9 and their payloads, you will be definitely underwhelmed at the numbers. The Atlas V is in another league, hence its workhorse status.

Anyway, i could sit here talking about Russian engine technology all day, lol. I have been to Energomash in Moscow where they make those big 171s, 180s, and also the 190, as well as to Chemical Automatics in Voronezh where they have some super exciting new engines like RD0124 and the hydrogen upper-stage RD0146.

I have been to the 'sausage factory' as they say, and it is impressive indeed. It's ridiculous that people in the US have some kind of idea that these places are sitting shuttered and gathering dust for the last 20 years, lol!

The Russian engineers are the most impressive part. I'm an aeronautical engineer by training and have done a little aerospace work here and there, but man these guys are on a different level.

But hey, Musk did launch a Tesla Roadster on a Falcon Heavy, so there is that.

Posted by: Gordog | Jun 21 2021 19:51 utc | 82

Oh, and about the Chinese. Absolutely agree with Karlof!

That YF100 engine is now their workhorse for the Long March 5 rocket that launched their space station, the mars orbiter with the Zhurong rover, the moon sample return mission and more. Btw, Nasa is talking about a 2032 mars sample return mission, which is a realistic timeframe.

[Of course Musk will already be there on mars with his 'colony' by then, lol!]

As mentioned previously the YF100 came out of the Russian RD120, but the credit goes to the Chinese since they got only the engines and not a technology transfer like they did with their manned Shenzhen program, or like the US did with the RD180 [which it is still not able to build].

This stuff is not easy, folks---which is why they call it rocket science, lol.

From the wiki on the YF100:

'The development required ten years of research, requiring the mastering of 70 key technologies, the development of 50 new materials, and the construction of 61 sets of engines with a combined total of more than 40,000 seconds of ignition time by 2013.'

Compare these Chinese accomplishments to what Musk or Bezos have done so far!

Posted by: Gordog | Jun 21 2021 20:20 utc | 83

Posted by: Gordog | Jun 21 2021 19:51 utc | 82

"Musk did launch a Tesla Roadster on a Falcon Heavy, so there is that".

Don't tell me, next Musk is going to put a 171 in a Tesla roadster, on a long and straight road.........

Posted by: Stonebird | Jun 21 2021 20:20 utc | 84

Should be Shenzhou program, not Shenzhen which is a city.

Posted by: Gordog | Jun 21 2021 20:27 utc | 85

I am not sure why it is thought to be a bad thing that SpaceX’ Falcon typically launches with less than maximum payload. The vehicle operating in more benign conditions like that is a good thing for the customer and the launch services provider. The customer saves money and the launch provider makes money. Where’s the problem?

Sure, SpaceX launchers waste fuel, but fuel costs for rockets are insignificant to the point of irrelevance. Squeezing the last bit of ISP from every ounce of propellant is certainly a nice engineering challenge, but it isn’t really necessary.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jun 21 2021 20:33 utc | 86

It's not a bad thing, William. There are real advantages. I said as much earlier. This is the case especially for run-of-the-mill commercial launches.

But that doesn't change the fact that you simply can't do everything with one small engine type. Big missions require big engines. Efficient and reliable big engines.

Such mission-critical payloads will often be operating near the rocket's payload maximum. Any thoughts about going outside of earth orbit, even to the moon, is going to require huge payloads that are going to need to be accelerated to a HUGE speed that is half again as fast as low earth orbit---about 12 km/s instead of 8. You don't have the luxury of cutting back payload in this situation.

This is why it is taking years for the Falcon Heavy to pass muster from the serious people. [Which btw is not even meant for this kind of mission]

That's going to be the job of the new Raptor engine that has never flown into space [but has blown up a few times already while flying up to a height of 30,000 feet and a speed of 180 mph; see 'Starship.']

This is completely ridiculous btw. You don't test a new engine by flying it to 180 mph and seeing if you can land it. First show us this thing can reach the 8 km/s speed to get into orbit. Then think about landing it later.

Supposedly this Starship will eventually be something like 45 of those 'Raptor' engines. That is ridiculous. The US needs a REAL space program like they had in the Apollo days, not this make-dough-program for billionaires.

But give it time, we will all see soon enough that Musk is a major conman. A literal army of his former engineers already know that. I'm sure Bezos is in the same category.

Posted by: Gordog | Jun 21 2021 21:23 utc | 87

Bad news. Gordog is wrong on a basic assertion. I just finished up a chat with a buddy at SpaceX who is in a position to know firsthand and engines are not removed and refurbished on the Falcon 9 rocket. They haven't done that in years. Only the first few were treated that way. They don't even remove the engines from the thrust structure. They just hit the ass end of the rocket with a pressure washer and do a visual inspection. No R&R whatsoever.

The landing legs, on the other hand, are removed after each launch. Their shock absorbers are consumables. Apparently crushable aluminum honeycomb cartridges are lighter and cheaper than hydraulic dampers. Refurbing each landing leg is supposedly well under forty man-hours of labor and accounts for the biggest part of actual refurbishment on the Falcon 9.

As for the number of engines, there is a reason airliners have more than one. Naval vessels all have more than one. The Soviet N-1 Moon rocket had 30 engines on the first stage alone. Sure, the N-1 was a failure, but not because there was anything intrinsically wrong with the idea of numerous engines. On the contrary, a large number of engines improves fault tolerance. With thirty-three engines, for instance, if one engine fails you only lose 3% of your thrust. Unless you are stupid and operating the launcher at the hairy edge of its envelope, the remaining thirty-two engines can throttle up a fraction of a percent to compensate. The advantage is a no-brainer.

Now, a launcher with fifty F-1s, or a like count of RD-170s would be a beast to brag about!

Posted by: William Gruff | Jun 22 2021 1:15 utc | 88

'Bad news. Gordog is wrong on a basic assertion. I just finished up a chat with a buddy at SpaceX who is in a position to know...'

Mmhmm...I guess if your secret friend at SpaceX says so then it must be true?

But it's not actually hard to find remarks about this from senior SpaceX people and even Musk himself. There's this discussion on Quora:

'The majority of work is the engine. We refurbish the engine. Most of it actually is parts that are not qualified for the next flight, so we just swap the parts.

It’s not actual damage. It’s a preventive maintenance kind of thing, where we know this part may fail the next time, so we just don’t take the risk and we swap it.'

---Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of build and flight reliability [2018]

And from a Teslarati report:

'Musk said the company almost never needs to replace a whole engine, but that some parts like turbine wheels are changed at times.'

Those turbine wheels would be in the turbopoump, which is driven by its own, separate pre-burner that supplies the gas to drive the turbine, which, like on a jet engine is on a common shaft with the fuel and propellant pumps that raise the pressure to about 1,000 psi in the main combustion chamber.

The turbopump as I noted before is the most critical part because it is the only moving machinery in the engine. It is basically a jet engine, only the pumps compress liquid propellants instead of air like on a jet engine compressor.

Those are critical parts and I don't care what anyone says, but not cracking open the turbopump requires a very high level of confidence that is only going to come after a very long proving out in actual use. And they are nowhere near that yet. It is still early times.

Maybe your friend is one of Musk's well-paid publicists?

Anyway, look William, this refurbishing thing is a minor point in all of this. The main point is that you do in fact need big engines for big rockets.

The 27 engines on the Falcon Heavy means a 27 percent chance of an engine failing, assuming a one percent failure rate. Fifty-four percent if it's still a very very low 2 percent.

It is a road to nowhere my friend. That means every second flight could have an engine failure, and every fourth flight will have two engine failures, which would be a big deal. That's a seven percent loss in power. It means each of the remaining 25 engines has to increase power by about 4 percent.

That's actually about the maximum margin. then you are really on the ragged edge with 25 engines going full tilt. And now at that overspeed statistical failure has increased much more.

This again has to do with the turbopump. Turbomachinery like those turbines and pumps are designed for a particular operating zone [speed range]. This is due to basic physics having to do with kinetic energy, which increases by the SQUARE of velocity. Decrease the turbopump rpm by one quarter, and the power drops by one half [56 percent to be precise], because the pump tip velocity squared [and thus energy] has dropped by that amount.

The same thing works in reverse when you are trying to go beyond 100 percent power.

And what about Starship with forty-five engines? The probability numbers are much worse yet. Every second or third flight something's going to let go and then you are at the mercy of the basic physics of turbomachinery and its inability to make power outside its sweet spot.

This is with the Raptor staged combustion engine, which have HUGE turbopumps in comparison to the small gas-gen pump on the Merlin. If we say the Raptor thrust is a quarter of the RD171 [450 kilopounds], then that turbopump is still over 50,000 hp!

Not to mention the oxygen-rich mixture, which I already spoke about and its oxygen cutting torch behavior. These are highly stressed turbopumps that are in fact an 'impossible' engineering achievement. In fact the US never pursued this because they did deem it impossible.

So why is this type of engine necessary if all is peachy keen with a Merlin with 27 or 50 or even 100 engines? Why are both Musk and Bezos trying to build these engines. Why did the US choose the Russian version? Why did the Chinese build their own at huge effort?

Because the math with the older engine tech just doesn't work my friend. These advanced engines actually run much farther away from the ragged edge even at their NOMINAL 100 percent output. That is why the Russian engines are so reliable. But that a whole other technical deep dive, to understand fully.

Musk gets reliability like I said by reducing payload with those simple, small engines. But again, that is not an option if you need to hoist 100 tons into orbit.

It's a different animal, just like a Clydesdale is different from thoroughbred.

Anyway, suit yourself and believe whatever Musk pabulum you prefer to imbibe. But if you believe that you can ride a Clydesdale into a run for the roses at the Kentucky Derby, you should at least consult some people who actually know a little bit about horse racing.

Hint: Musk is not that person.

Posted by: Gordog | Jun 22 2021 3:41 utc | 89

Gordog @89

That's odd. Question at supplied link is "How does SpaceX refurbish their Falcon 9 rockets after they land? How long does it take?" and the top answer at that link you provided:

They don’t - at least, most of the time.

Rather, it is said that after a cleanup of the outer shell from the soot produced by the engine and a lot of rigorous checks and tests done - if the engines and all inner systems are still in working order, it’ll be relaunched straightforward the next time.

"...then you are really on the ragged edge with 25 engines going full tilt....

That's a straw engine you are talking about. SpaceX doesn't manifest their launches so that their vehicles have to operate at the "ragged edge" unless the customer needs that and is willing to pay for it (costs a lot more as the launcher must be considered disposable in that situation).

Since you started off with a flawed assumption then everywhere you went with that assumption is irrelevant to the discussion.

"Turbomachinery like those turbines and pumps are designed for a particular operating zone...

Correct, but the conclusion you draw is wrong. The very fact mentioned, and that the payoff for investing so much engineering time to develop a super-deep throttle-able giant engine is not worth it, is why more engines is desirable. The difference in mass between a fully loaded and fueled rocket stage and an empty one coming in for a landing is immense. A single engine on a launcher the size of Falcon 9 would have to throttle down to a fraction of 1% of its normal launch thrust in order to hover with that engine when the stage is almost empty. As it is the Falcon 9's Merlin engines have a 57% throttle range, and that is nowhere near enough for a single engine loaded launch/empty hover. Having multiple engines allows them to launch with a bunch of thrust with all engines, then only use three to decelerate from launch speed and then one for landing. The engines are thus sized and spec'd so that one is enough for landings when throttled to the bottom of its range. This range of thrust would be near impossible with one big engine.

Finally, nothing Gordog has posted has indicated why one (or few) big engine is superior to several (or many) smaller ones. One of the common arguments is mass fraction, with numerous engines presumably having redundant components and thrust structures that increase the mass fraction of the entire thrust assembly, but our critic here doesn't even mention that. Likely because the poster knows it has been debunked elsewhere already. That argument, like the one made by Gordog above, starts with skewed (and false) initial assumptions that lead to the desired conclusions.

Makes me wonder of Gordog is shilling for Boeing. Boeing does that sort of thing.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jun 22 2021 8:59 utc | 90

Well, now you've gone off the deep end, lol!

That link I gave to quora has some little guy at the very top who says oh sure they just wash them off and wheel them out to the launch pad---CITING NO SOURCES WHATSOEVER!

That's why he inserts into his silly statement the words 'IT IS SAID.'

But we are supposed to take this clown's 'supposedly' and 'it is said' over a direct quote from the SpacX VP?

The words 'desperately clutching at straws' come to mind.

The rest of your post is basically incoherent and unintelligible. I have no idea where I'm supposed to have started off with a 'flawed' assumption. Everything I said is 100 percent correct.

Presumably you are taking issue about the scenario where two engines [out of 27] are lost and then the other 25 must operate on the 'ragged edge' as I put it. And you claim that SpaceX 'manifests' its payloads so that kind of heavy power output isn't needed---which means they put much smaller payloads on so they have a big safety cushion.

Yes, that is exactly what they do. And that is patently clear when you look at their complete launch record and the payload sizes and orbital parameters.

For instance in a GTO launch of an EchoStar sat of 5.6 tons in 2017, it was not possible to land the booster back:

'Due to the payload size launch into a GTO, the booster was expended into the Atlantic Ocean and did not feature landing legs and grid fins.'

There are numerous such launches where the payload is too big to land the booster.

The Atlas V [401 version with just the RD180 engine and no add-on solid boosters] has made numerous GTO launches at over 4.5 tons. Also not landing back of course. That is only 20 percent less payload on a launch vehicle with HALF the thrust and half the total rocket launch mass.

So SpaceX's 'accomplishments' are very far from the supposedly 'cutting edge' that Musk promotes with his massive publicity machine, and his field armies of flunky fanboys that just soak in all this nonsense because they actually have no clue about aerospace engineering.

Look, this is all well and good for these commercial launches, and customers get about 30 percent launch discount with used engines. But the fact remains that this company has never flown a payload anywhere near its advertised capacity.

Like I said already, that is not an option for big manned missions, like to moon orbit. Or even to launch large space station components.

If you do the numbers based on SpaceX's DEMONSTRATED payloads and orbital parameters you will need a huge amount of Merlin engines to put a big payload even into LEO.The biggest payload I could find in their launch history is 15.6 tons for the F9. Multiply that by five for 78 tons and you have 45 engines. And an overall mass of 2.75 million tons.

That's nearly the size of the Saturn V [2.8 million tons], but with half the payload. To match the payload, you will need 90 engines, lol!

Look, the facts speak for themselves. The Chinese just launched the 22.6 ton Tianhe space station module. That is WAY bigger than anything SpaceX has ever launched. In fact that is bigger than anything the US has launched since the Shuttle stopped flying ten years ago.

It's FOUR times as big as the biggest Falcon Heavy launch---which, as I said, is considered a work in progress by the Space Force people.

Those are the facts. You seem to have convinced yourself that professional folks who make these decisions don't know what they're doing. While some pie-in-the-sky about 45 engines, which has NEVER been flown in the history of the world, makes perfect sense to you.

Posted by: Gordog | Jun 22 2021 15:35 utc | 91

Gordog @91

Comparing reusable to disposable vehicles is silly. It's all about kilos to orbit/dollar, not kilos/launch. A Saturn V sized launcher that only launches half as much mass as a disposable Saturn V, but can launch multiple times will cost less. The Chinese are currently working on reuse tech similar to what SpaceX uses and will be fielding those launchers in a couple years. Why? Because it makes economic sense.

The facts are that SpaceX has no difficulty filling its launch schedule. They have plenty of customers. That tells us all we need to know.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jun 22 2021 16:36 utc | 92

Most of SpaceX's customers, by far, are SpaceX, lol! See Starlink.

'A Saturn V sized launcher that only launches half as much mass as a disposable Saturn V, but can launch multiple times will cost less.'

Which, when combined with a five dollar bill, will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks!

Look man, now you are talking complete nonsense. The Saturn V needed ALL of that payload to get into trans-lunar injection [TLI].

The Russians are working on a super heavy Yenisei rocket with six RD171s. That's over 10 million pounds of thrust, with a vehicle mass of 3.2 kilotons. That's the equivalent of FIFTY Merlin engines!

That Yenisei is only going to be good enough for 33 tons payload into trans-lunar injection orbit [TLI]. But good for 140 tons to LEO [from Kazakhstan, which is a more northerly launch site and thus takes more power than launching from Florida.]

If you're going to try to do this with the SpaceX strategy of babying those engines then you will put half of that payload into TLI, which will get you nowhere, since those space vehicles will weigh a lot more. Or, you will need twice the power. Good luck with either of that.

There's a reason those advanced big engines exist. I could go into some technical detail about that, but it seems rather pointless if the retorts are going to be nonsensical.

I'm done here!

Posted by: Gordog | Jun 22 2021 17:44 utc | 93

@Gordog #82:

I can go into much greater detail, but don't want to bore people with a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo, lol!

Please do!

Posted by: S | Jun 22 2021 19:11 utc | 94

@William Gruff #90:

Finally, nothing Gordog has posted has indicated why one (or few) big engine is superior to several (or many) smaller ones. One of the common arguments is mass fraction, with numerous engines presumably having redundant components and thrust structures that increase the mass fraction of the entire thrust assembly, but our critic here doesn't even mention that. Likely because the poster knows it has been debunked elsewhere already.

If many small engines are just as good as few big ones, as you seem to think, then why is SpaceX replacing their small Merlin engines with bigger Raptor engines?

Also, here’s a thought experiment for you: imagine a big rocket engine (in 3D), now substitute it with 4 smaller rocket engines occupying a cylinder of the same radius, now substitute each smaller rocket engine with 4 even smaller rocket engines, and so on and so on. Keep doing it until you understand why you’re wrong. (Note: a combustion chamber can’t be shaped like a noodle.)

Makes me wonder of Gordog is shilling for Boeing.

This is distasteful and direspectful towards our guest, who shared lots of interesting information with us. Not everyone who disagrees with you is a shill.


The facts are that SpaceX has no difficulty filling its launch schedule. They have plenty of customers. That tells us all we need to know.

No, it doesn’t. Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have no difficulty filling their production schedule, and they have plenty of customers. That doesn’t mean Sputnik V is a bad vaccine. As you know, the U.S. is pulling strings so that Sputnik V, a cheaper vaccine with much cheaper logistics, would not be used in Europe, Brazil, and other countries. What makes you think they wouldn’t do the same for rockets?

Just to be clear, I am not against reusable rockets. They certainly make economic sense after a certain “reusability coefficient” is reached. Russia is working on its own reusable rockets, too: Krylo‑SV (small-lift, RP‑1, first stage lands like a plane using an unfolding wing) and Amur‑SPG (middle-lift, methane, first stage lands vertically like SpaceX’s rockets).

Posted by: S | Jun 22 2021 19:58 utc | 95

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