China’s secret spaceplane idea to rival SpaceX is INSANE !

SpaceX is trying to launch a new Italian satellite with the Falcon 9, but the launch was scrubbed already four times. And then Elon Musk’s company is planning a record number of 52 launches in 2022. What? Meanwhile, plans for a new Chinese space plane were announced, and it won’t be the only new space plane. So, why could a space plane be a better choice, when we have the technology to land with a rocket also? We have a lot to talk about, so stay tuned! So, the latest news suggests that a private Chinese company is actively developing a new space plane. Space Transportation, very innovative name, wants to build a space plane, which will fly on a suborbital trajectory, and carries passengers in a point-to-point journey. This new space plane claimed to be faster than the traditional aircraft, while at the same time cheaper than the orbital rocket flight. This new space plane will basically be a rocket with wings, as Space Transportation describes it, and will be fully reusable. The space plane is designed to be launched vertically, together with a first stage which has even bigger wings. After separating from the first stage, the second stage will continue the suborbital flight to the destination, and eventually propulsively land on its three legs in a vertical position. The announced timeline of the development is ambitious. Ground test in 2023, first flight in 2024 and crewed flight already in 2025. And Space Transportation aims even higher, namely they are planning to fly an orbital, crewed space plane by 2030. So is this just another slideware, or the modern version, of another 3D animation CGI only company? We saw that it is not unusual: even some big and rich companies can be categorized as such. If you know, what I mean, ha. But the Space Transportation at least has two test vehicles, Tianxing 1 and 2, which already performed more than 10 flights in the past. Since these flights took place in the hypersonic regime, not much data published on these tests, because of the sensitive, national security nature of the hypersonic flights, and hypersonic vehicles. Besides, Space Transportation, the state owned China Aerospace Science and technology Corporation does have their own space plane development programs as well. The results on their suborbital and orbital launch tests are until now not much known either to rest of the world. Similar plans with a space plane were revealed in the US. The private, Washington based Radian Aerospace company raised $27 million to develop the Radian One crewed space plane. The purpose of their project is to make space travel as convenient and simple as a commercial flight. And Radian Aerospace also wants to help orbital research, in-space industry, Earth observation and rapid global delivery. The last goal is also the main purpose of the USSF Rocket Cargo program we discussed in the previous video. So, how would the Radian One space plane operate? The Radian One will be placed on top of a sled, which will accelerates it on an airstrip to a subsonic speed for take-off. Then it will ignite its rocket engines and ascend with low G load. Radian One will be able to carry out various missions in orbit for the maximum of a 5 day period. Reentry and landing will be also smooth thanks to the big wings. The spacecraft will be able to take off and land on any 3048 m or corresponding 10000 ft airstrip. This feature indicates that Radian Aerospace also have plans for point-to-point transportation with their space plane project. The payload capacity of the Radian One will be 2270kg, which the space plane will be able to deliver anywhere on the planet (where a suitable airstrip can be found, of course) in less than one hour. The turnaround time of the space plane is claimed to be under 48-hours. Again, very ambitious project, considering that the Radian One would be a Single-Stage-To-Orbit vehicle, which is not easy to build. Experienced leadership is a must for such a project, and Livingston Holder, co-founder and CEO of Radian Aerospace seems to be just that person. He was the head of the Future Space Transportation and the X-33 programs at Boeing. Two other founders are veterans of the Rotary Rocket company, which aimed to develop the fully reusable, SSTO Roton rockets, already back in the 1990s. With regard to the safety of the crewed flights, the Radian One Radian One will have three engines, only used in the ascend phase. And thus will be capable to eject the whole crew cabin from the ship in case of an aborted launch/take-off. Nice plans, but currently they are only at the fund-raising phase yet. Anyway, fingers crossed. The more launch system we will have, the lower the ticket prices for private space travel will be, and the greater the space industry will grow. But let’s take a step back, and ask the question: why are space planes such a big deal? Despite the huge success of SpaceX’s fully* reusable Falcon rockets, and the promising development of Starship – Super Heavy, why are so many company still keen on building a space plane? The advantages of the space plane are namely the following: the reentry with a big surface area results in a low G load, the ability to glide back to the landing airstrip is basically for free, because no additional propellant is needed for it, and lastly the ascent phase could have a lower gravity lost even with a moderate acceleration. Last but not least, if the engine of the space plane also capable to use the oxygen from the air while ascending, and accelerating, the equation is looking even better. For that perhaps we will see the Skylon as an example with its SABRE engine. To be fair, the main disadvantage of the space plane also has to be mentioned. Namely their big wings. These wings are an extra weight themselfves, and is totally useless while flying in space. So, one thing is for sure: we won’t see any space planes flying to the Moon nor to the Mars. Let’s continue with more conventional rockets if we can call the Falcon9 a conventional rocket. SpaceX has planned an the incredible number of 52 Falcon 9 launches in 2022. So, basically one launch every week. They sure already have launched the 4th Falcon 9 of the two Italian satellite last week. The original launch date was Thursday, which was postponed by 24 hours, because of the bad weather conditions. And again, the bad weather with thick clouds called for another scrub. More unfortunately the scrubbed launch attempt resulted in another delay, as now the Falcon could not deliver the Cosmo-SkyMed Second Generation 2 (CSG-2) satellite to join its pair spacecraft, the CSG-1 on their sun-synchronous polar orbit at the altitude of 620 km on Sunday. The next attempt is on the 1st of February. The CSG-2 satellite will provide advanced Search-And-Rescue (SAR) services, continuing the work of the predecessor, first generation CSK satellites. Its objectives are “to monitor Earth for the sake of emergency prevention, strategy, scientific and commercial purposes”. So, SpaceX is living and is looking forward busy days: beside the mentioned CSG-2 launch, a new batch of Starlink satellites launch on Monday, the NROL-87 classified payload are both scheduled to launch this week. We really hope that the weather won’t stand in the way of this tight launch schedule again. In any case, 2022 is going to be a very interesting year, for us, friends of human space flight. And please, subscribe to this channel, if you like space news with may be a dose of added sarcasm from time to time. Thanks a lot in advance! Now, back to the Chinese space program. In the last days of 2021, the Chinese Shijian-21 satellite approached the dead and drifting Beidou-2 G2 navigation satellite on the geostationary orbit. Then successfully docked to the satellite, and performed a long burn on 22nd January, sending it to beyond the so-called graveyard orbit, 300 km above the GEO. This way the malfunctioned Beidou satellite is saved from becoming space debris and won’t cause any threat to other satellites in the GEO any more. The savior satellite, the Shijian-21 released its target 4 days later, and returned to GEO, probably for other upcoming Chinese space missions. Though we are happy to see the actual steps taken by China to remove space debris, we must be aware that this kind of capability could also be used for other, strategic or let’s say, not so peaceful military purposes in the future. In order to keep the orbits around Earth clean and safe, the extension of a satellite’s life is a similar approach to removing the dead spacecrafts. Refueling a satellite is another way to revive a dead satellite and extend its operational period and China has plans and hardware for that as well. I.e. the satellite named “Space Tanker” was debuted at the 13th China Air Show, to fulfill this purpose. The “Space Tanker” is using an arm to reach out and attach to the refill port of the other space vehicle. Then the fuel can be transferred to the dead satellite. This method was already demoed in 2017, in the Tiangong-2 space laboratory. On the other hand, the American Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicles, the MEV-1 and the MEV-2 are used in a different way to clean space debris. These probes will dock to the target dead satellite usually to the engine bell with a simple mechanic docking solution. Then, the MEV probes will perform the station keeping and attitude control. This way an expensive satellite could work for a longer period, and the end-of-life deorbiting maneuver of the satellite can also be executed. Both launched Northrop Grumman MEV sats are now attached to the Intelsat communication satellites 901 and 10-02, in order to extend the operation time of the latter satellites. So, the US companies are developing in this direction, but how about Europe, the ESA? ESA is also aware of the danger of the space junk and runs the Active Debris Removal / In-Orbit Servicing (ADRIOS) project. Within this project, the ESA signed a $104 million contract with the Swiss ClearSpace company for a mission to remove the Secondary Payload Adapter from a 2013 Vega rocket flight. The Clearspace One mission is planned to be launched in 2025. It will grab the target object with its four, spider leg like arms, and then drive it to a deorbiting trajectory and a fiery destiny. It will be a suicide mission for the ClearSpace-1 spacecraft. We must mention another private company from Japan: the Astroscale, which was initially started with the purpose of removing the space debris orbiting Earth. Astroscale was founded by Nobu Okada in 2013, in Singapore, and opened offices since in Tokyo (the headquarter), in the UK and in the US. They have already raised funding and awarded with $100 millions. Their core technology is a docking platform, a metallic plate, which must be built in the to-be-serviced or to-be-saved satellites. The Astroscale space debris removal probe uses an electromagnet to dock to this plate and so to the target satellite. To achieve this, advanced control and complex maneuvering of the probe is needed, because a dead satellite can tumble in a random way. Their demo mission, the ELSA-d (“End-of-Life Services by Astroscale demonstration”) was launched in March 2021. It carried a test space debris object weighting 17kg, equipped with the docking plate. The probe managed to release and catch the test object again, multiple times. Unfortunately, just a few days ago, on 25th January the latest tests were interrupted, when an anomaly has been detected on ELSA-d, after releasing the test object. The company’s test operation center in Hartwell, UK announced that will try to continue the tests after solving the problem. And we wish them the best of luck succeeding in this mission! So, friends of human spaceflight, thanks for watching this episode, our team wishes you all the best, and ON TO THE FUTURE!

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