May 3, 2019: Weekly Spatial Resolutions

See the source image
The Long March 5–it just keeps coming up this week. Image from (likely from CNSA). This site contains my opinions and ideas only, not the opinions or ideas of any organization I work for. It’s my idea playground, and I’m inviting you in. Welcome!

Why China launches its rockets inland, while everyone else sticks to coastlines

The answer in this article may not surprise those following China’s launch activities, and it makes sense. With enemies pretty much a stone’s throw away, Xichang, Jiuquan, and Taiyuan were all located inland, as far from those borders as practical.

While Wenchang on Hainan is the newest one, and the only one by water, it’s also the least used, in spite of the optimism surrounding its use. The other three are much busier than Wenchang. Partially, this is because the site is the only one that can launch the Long March 5 (CZ-5). And the article does cite the reason the Chinese are elated is because the island allows the nation to transport large rocket bodies, such as those for the CZ-5, easily over water.

But China has had issues with the CZ-5, too. Of the two the nation has launched since 2016, one has been successful. The last one launched, failed. Since it is the only rocket in China’s inventory with the capability to lift extremely large masses, such as 25 tons to low Earth orbit, the failure might have slowed down some of China’s plans for inserting large objects into orbit. So, again, while the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center is the newest of China’s spaceports, very close to the water, AND China’s southernmost launch site, it’s been fairly dormant, too.

Of the three total Wenchang launches, the last two used the CZ-5. The very first one from the newest of China’s spaceports was the launch of a Long March 7 in 2016.

Florida’s Space Coast sees entrepreneurial growth

Um, what kind of entrepreneurial growth? Meth labs?

Obviously, the story clears this mystery up, but, seriously–a better, more intriguing headline, please.

florida GIF
No, this is not a Florida meth lab blowing up. Image from

Startrocket’s satellite technology creates brand-sponsored constellations

The company, Startrocket, seems to be going about this the wrong way. With a name like “Startrocket,” it should be building, well, rockets. Not satellites. Also, the idea of using reflective cubesats to shine a company’s name from above seems unrealistic.

Really unrealistic.

The company would have to formation fly the satellites. That’s not too terrible. But then the company would need to make sure those satellites are at the correct angle to catch reflected light and be legible to the population below. Then, if the satellites were to advertise a different company, they would need to move around, re-form to the new name. That takes fuel. Probably more fuel than those satellites have on board. This is a problem for creating words with satellites.

Maybe the company is thinking of having satellites stay in a nonchanging formation, LCD-watch style, with different characters created by making certain segments visible? In that case, the advertised names would probably need to be pretty short, too. Like ancient, HP calculator character, short. Displaying “HELLO” might be the maximum number of characters for this.

The other problem, generally? It’s advertising. Many of us go to great lengths to minimize the number of advertisements intruding on our lives. To look up at the heavens and have a company’s name or slogan appear is truly an argument and incentive for anti-satellite weaponry for ad-blocking with extreme prejudice. I want my skies ad-free.

China is headed to the moon and Mars, and we need to catch up

So, the article linked above is an opinion in the Orlando Sentinel. But it’s an opinion intended to get people scared. It’s an opinion from people who don’t seem to know that much about the global space industry. They don’t seem to have space industry experience in their careers. But even if they did, I suspect they’d still try to sell this “space race” story to U.S. citizens. If only to keep supporting the Vice President’s assertion that this is so.

Writing opinions such as “…the race is to get to Mars, and China is officially beating us.” is untrue. It’s not clear what metric the writers are using to support this opinion. But here’s a fact: of the nations with satellites and probes around and on Mars, China is not one of them. Weirdly, the U.S. has left more junk on Mars from retired missions than there have been Chinese missions to Mars. Heck, even India, China’s less active space rival, has a satellite orbiting Mars right now.

mars rovers GIF by NASA
U.S. lagging in Mars activities? Really? Image from NASA.

Where the race might be, if there is one, is between SpaceX, and the U.S companies who are used to receiving lots of funding from NASA. The year thrown about by various sources in the piece is 2024. That’s interesting, if only because 2024 is the number SpaceX seems to be sticking with for sending a crewed mission to Mars.

In 2022, SpaceX intends to launch a cargo mission to Mars. The company might be able to do that today with the Falcon Heavy, since it advertises the capability of that space launch vehicle to carry a very large, nearly 17 ton payload, to Mars. And the Falcon Heavy has launched successfully twice now. China’s Long March 5 can’t come close in capability, and is currently not as reliable as the Falcon Heavy.

If SpaceX does either mission, successful or not, there are likely to be serious questions regarding the spending at, and the effectiveness of, NASA in a realm it should be spearheading. The decades-long spending on certain programs might come to an end, forcing certain contractors to maybe…innovate? Or die. Those are reasons enough for a race, right?

But a “space race” with China? At least not for the reasons the opinion’s authors are using.

Why does the same narrative keep coming up, though?

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