The Red Shuttle
Next year, after the latest 2-3 flights, the Space Shuttle fleet will be retired forever and for about 4-6 years the NASA and USA space program MUST rely ONLY on the russian Soyuz and Progress, the european ATV, the japanese HTV or on the very expensive (up to FIVE TIMES than Shuttle) and poorly designed COTS and CRS programs, based on the "commercial" (but HUGELY FUNDED with $4.8 billion of government's funds...) Dragon and Falcon-9 (a sort of "american Soyuz" with the same performances and capabilities of a '60s Soviet Union's Soyuz...) or the smaller Cygnus.
In the mean time, the China space program runs very quickly with the design of new rockets, new big engines, new manned missions, lunar probes and rovers, a space station and, as recent rumors say, also a Military Spaceplane or RedShuttle.
Of course, this rumor ISN'T a big surprise for me, since I've predicted the development of a chinese spaceplane OVER FIVE YEARS AGO in my first article about space, and, in the same article, I've also published a possible design (see image below) of that spacecraft that I've called Shenzhou 235.
But, may China develop something like a Space Shuttle and much sooner of my concept of Shenzhou 235 ???
My answer is BIG YES since China has a quickly growing economy, one trillion$ of money reserves, hundreds of thousands new engineers every year, high technologies (often higher than other countries) many giant science parks and the very low (production and manpower) costs of a developing (but already VERY developed) asian country.
Well, since the Space Shuttle technology is well know by 30 years and China surely HAS the capabilities to duplicate this vehicle, much better than the original one (as China has already done with its Soyuz-derived Shenzhou spacecraft) within FIVE YEARS and, most important, could manage and launch its Shuttles at MUCH LOWER COSTS than NASA.
Now, the Space Shuttle program costs over $3 billion per year and each launch costs about $600 million (if the Shuttles missions are five or more per year) but, great part of these costs (about 60% of the Space Shuttle budget) are due to engineers, technicians and employees' salaries, that is exactly what China can have at a fraction of the american and NASA costs, and, also the Shuttle hardware costs (one ET and two SRB per launch) could cost half or less if made in China.
In other words, assuming that the hardware costs per launch (ET+SRBs) will be $100 million per mission and the (shared) fixed annual costs of the chinese Shuttle program only 20% of the NASA costs (then less than $500 million per year, or $100 million per mission) the price per launch of a chinese Shuttle could be of only $200 million, that's just 1/3rd or the (already lower than commercial-space) costs of the american Shuttle!
Probably, the chinese engineers will develop also a better and safer ET or, best, a new generation of (fly-back) liquid engines' reusable boosters, so, each launch would cost even less than $150 million per mission and, using lighter materials to build the chinese Shuttle, the payload can DOUBLE+ from 24 mT to 50 mT or more so each mission will carry TWICE the space-hardware for less than 1/5th of the american Shuttle costs!!!!
And, if that will happen, the chinese Shuttles' payloads costs, will quickly KILL nearly ALL other old.space/new.space rockets and spacecrafts, giving to China the total domination of the (commercial and military) Space business!!!
And if you still have any doubt that China wants to develop a RedShuttle, just remember this July 17, 2009 news: "A federal judge found former Boeing engineer Dongfan "Greg" Chung, 73, guilty of six counts of economic espionage and other charges for taking 300,000 pages of sensitive documents that included information about the US space shuttle and a booster rocket."
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