Chinese company Zhongke proposes to build a suborbital space tourism vehicle that basically copies spaceships made by U.S. billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.
/ August 22, 2021
By Richard Fisher
Oh, the vanities. Oh, the ironies.
On Aug. 13, billionaire Jeff Bezos notified a federal court that he will soon sue the National Aerospace and Science Administration (NASA) over its April 16 decision to award $2.9 billion in funding for the next United States Moon lander to the SpaceX Corporation of Billionaire Elon Musk, over that proposed by Bezos’ company Blue Origin.
NASA was expected to select two companies to develop Moon landers for NASA’s Artemis Program to return the United States and allied nations to the Moon by 2024. However, NASA decided that it did not have the budget to support two Moon landers and chose the SpaceX proposal.
A late April protest by Blue Origin to the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) was turned town in late July but did delay funding for SpaceX for over 90 days. The latest legal maneuver by Blue Origin may result in additional delays in NASA funding for SpaceX, potentially delaying Moon lander development and the ability of the U.S. make the 2024 Moon return goal.
But now a new challenge has emerged from China, the main competition for NASA and its Artemis Program to build a dominant presence on the Moon.
However, this competition comes in an almost absurd form: a new Chinese “private” space company proposing a new suborbital space tourism craft. But this new spaceship would combine apparent copies of both the reusable space booster from Bezos’ New Shephard space tourism ship, and Musk’s Dragon manned space capsule.
If this program shows signs of making progress, will Bezos and Musk join forces and sue this Chinese company and its likely government funding agency?
Would the Chinese Communist Party regard such a protest as just and reasonable, or would it instead quietly threaten the considerable economic interests Bezos and Musk have in China?
The private Chinese space company, Zhongke Aerospace Exploration Technology Company, and its novel New Shephard and Dragon influenced space tourism craft, was first highlighted on the Aug. 13 twitter feed of Andrew Jones, a prolific space journalist who specializes in following China’s space program.
He found an Aug. 13 article on the Chinese Weixin (WeChat) web portal on a strategic agreement between the Zhongke, the spaceship developer, and the Zhuhai Obit Aerospace Technology Corporation.
A May 7 article in ChinaNews explained that Zhongke was an offshoot of the China Academy of Sciences. This means that it will receive Chinese government subsidies for start up and may eventually perform contract work for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which control China’s space program.
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