According to latest news China’s space plans of following years are covering many ambitious aims. It is clearly visible that CNSA and in general China’s space industry is really aware of its own potential and its representatives strongly believe that good and strong economy of China will create positive conditions for space companies.
Money will be surely something to worry about if announced trend in development of Chinese space program will be continued in following years. Even if we consider previous achievements like launching two space stations independently from any official support form abroad (Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2), creating own cargo robotic spacecraft and developing manned space program as impressive, plans for following 30 years are still are looking unbelievable.
CAST (China Association for Science and Technology), one of the main contractors developing and manufacturing rockets, satellites, etc. announced on November 16, 2017 according to Xinhua news agency their vision for development of space program in China. First key point is launching Long March 8 rocket in 2020. Vehicle is medium sized designated of reaching SSO orbit with moderate weighing payload (up to 4 tonnes). It will be based on first stage of Long March 8 with two 1200 kN engines YF-100 fueled with LOX/Kerosene. Rocket will be equipped with three stages and supported with two solid fueled boosters.
For 2025 CAST plans to launch first reusable cargo vehicles to their space station. Five years later it is planned to present super heavy rocket able to reach Moon. It will be Long March 9 able to deliver to LEO 100 tons. After another five years CAST plans to introduce reusable technology to most of their rockets to make possible full reusability of all stages.
In 2040 CAST will introduce first operating nuclear powered space shuttle. It was not announced what kind of propulsion with nuclear energy it will be equipped with, but we can assume that will be some kind of highly efficient electric thruster installed in conventional space shuttle delivered to orbit by heavy rocket booster. For keeping correct orbit and maneuvers it will use nuclear powered electric thruster; combining this technology with latest achievements in navigation and independent, computer controlled avionics and guiding systems it is possible that such vehicle will be able to perform long time missions without crew inside – for example it will stay for few years on orbit to preserve and service satellites, change their orbit or refuel to extend their operational life.
All these plans (maybe not the nuclear powered space shuttle) are possible to became reality. Still we have to assume that CAST and CNSA will have budget for development not only projects but mainly of creating new technologies necessary for manufacturing large rockets and advanced computer systems. At the moment we know that in electric propulsion technology, CNSA and every Chinese company is far behind USA and Russia. Reusable technology in China was not on the first place in terms of budget and research and development resources. We have heard about some test but in general it was only recovering boosters with parachutes – such trials were performed in the USA decades ago and way from parachute to controlled engine flight form space to earth is very long. Creating heavy rocket is most possible with present condition of Chinese economy and industry, still such technologies like welding large steel tanks or using carbon fiber of manufacturing large and light tanks is not on such advanced level as CAST would like to see it. To keep this schedule CAST and CNSA probably will be forced to increase their budgets for research and development but also establish cooperation with countries which are already have experience in high-tech manufacturing on the large scale. But as lack of enthusiasm in China for international cooperation in their space program is widely known it is rather more possible that China will purchase technology even if it will be overpriced rather than allow anyone to get inside their space program as an equal partner.