China, Others Made Space Progress Despite ITAR

By Bradley Perrett, Frank Morring, Jr. , Amy Svitak , Jay Menon
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

The Long March 7, which may become China's future human-rated launcher, is due to fly next year; a delay from 2013 was announced in March. The first flight of the Long March 5 was also put back from 2013 to no earlier than 2015. Progress on the Long March 6 has closely tracked the Long March 7.

The inability of ITAR to keep China from developing the YF-100 is underlined if, as is sometimes reported, the engine is based on the Russian RD-120. Officials say that like the RD-120, it uses staged combustion. At sea level, the engine has achieved a 305-sec. specific impulse figure that impresses foreign rocket engineers—and is another reminder that China can achieve a great deal without U.S. cooperation. Staged combustion is also used for the 18-ton-thrust kerosene second-stage engine of Long March 7.

Still, with a thrust of 120 metric tons (260,000 lb.), the YF-100 is not a very large engine. Engineers of China's Academy of Aerospace Propulsion Technology—Li Ping, Li Bin and Yu Zou—emphasized in a paper published last year that China was still behind in space propulsion. Their proposal, probably representing official thinking, is to develop the largest kerosene-oxygen rocket that China could use commercially—with up to three times the thrust of the YF-100—and then give it double combustion chambers to create an engine twice as large again. This, it appears, is China's path to propulsion for a Moon rocket.

A variety of small launchers also are proposed or under development. One, the Long March 11, was identified this year. It uses solid fuel, another dual-use technology that can be applied to military systems such as the anti-satellite weapon demonstrated in January 2007 (AW&ST Feb. 12, 2007, p. 20).

The U.S. government still considers spacecraft and launch vehicles as weapons, regardless of how they are used. But it is moving away from that position with a set of export-control reforms designed to rationalize what many see as an irrational system, particularly in the commercial-space arena (see page 52).

“[T]he United States is no longer the sole source of key items and technologies,” said Thomas Kelly of the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs in congressional testimony last April. “Today, cutting-edge technologies are developed far more rapidly than 40 or 50 years ago, in places far beyond our borders. Many U.S. companies must collaborate with foreign companies to develop, produce and sustain leading-edge military hardware and technology if they are to survive as viable businesses.”

China's space program is the best funded and most ambitious among the BRIC nations. All have developed solid space programs with little or no U.S. help, and have worked together to mutual benefit.

Brazil is already a hot market for commercial communications satellites, with its Star One, the largest satellite-fleet operator in Latin America (AW&ST Aug. 19, p. 17). Brazil buys its satellites from the U.S. and Europe, and launches them abroad as well. But after many fits and starts, it is preparing to begin using its 30-year-old Alcantara launch center on its north coast to launch a new variant of the Soviet-era Cyclone rockets manufactured in Ukraine by the Yuzhnoye State Design Office.

The arrangement, to be outlined at the upcoming International Astronautical Conference in Beijing, gives the Ukrainian government access to Alcantara for its missions and sets up a joint commercial launch services operation called Alcantara Cyclone Space.

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