The case for Pakistan Space Force | World Defense

The case for Pakistan Space Force

Oct 1, 2019
206 8
With the advent and SpaceX's re-usable Starship rocket, Elon Musk seems prepared to launch us into a new era of space exploration. The question for us is, how can we take advantage of the situation?

Going to mars, moon, and space-based research are noble ventures that we cannot really afford for the foreseeable future.

Here is something we can do with immediate and relatively-cheap investment into space:

Starship will launch satellites for as low as $250/kg. This will force competitors to do the same or go out of business. Unfortunately, launching defense satellites over US based platforms is likely prohibitive. And even if possible, expect sabotage, tracking sensors and kill-switches covertly installed prior to launch.
Note: Falcon Heavy launch cost was $2,500/kg. Elon Musk stated Startship launch cost will be 10 times less.

Fortunately, Chinese are eager not to be left behind. Three Chinese private companies - Interstellar Glory, LandSpace and OneSpace are making quick strides catching up. Given the nature of national-interest companies operating in China, they will be heavily subsidized and empowered by the Chinese government to beat their US competitors in the race to cheap space access.

Our relations with China ensure we get priority access to these satellite launchers, particularly for defense needs.

Currently, if you want to launch a satellite, you need to either think about building your own launch vehicle, or pay tens of millions for someone to launch. That is, even if someone agrees to launch for us. Space will soon become accessible to us. We need to be prepared to access it.

We need a satellite factory on the same scale as the JF-17 program.

So what can we do with these cheap satellites?

- Reconnaissance:
- Detect and track enemy land-based hardware and movements.
- Detect and monitor missile tests and act as early-warning system against hostile missile launches.
- Detect and monitor aircrafts.
- Track buildups across airfields, nuclear facilities and other military installations.
- Relay and track manually installed spying devices in isolated locations.
- Continually track enemy sea-based surface vessels.

- Weapons Platforms:
- First strike platform, while illegal, can be built and stored on land to act as a deterrent where it can be quickly launched in times of war.
- Missile launch with laser-based self-defense mechanism provides a new variety of deterrent against the enemy.
- High energy directed weapons against missiles and aircrafts.

- Secure Communication:
- In remote areas, and in times of war, we can rely on our own space-based communication network.

- Navigational System:
- We could build our own GPS-network, but its value is debate as long we have access to China's Beidou.

- Civilian Uses:
- Geographic Mapping
- Surveying for city planning and governance
- Radio / TV transmission

Best of all, Pakistan Space Force has a nice ring to it!
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Oct 1, 2019
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‘It’s going to happen’: is the world ready for war in space?

The next theatre of conflict is likely to be in Earth’s orbit – and may have dire consequences for us all

When you hear the phrase “space war”, it is easy to conjure images that could have come from a Star Wars movie: dogfights in space, motherships blasting into warp speed, planet-killing lasers and astronauts with ray guns. And just as easy to then dismiss the whole thing as nonsense. It’s why last month’s call by President Trump for an American “space force”, which he helpfully explained was similar to the air force but for err… space, was met with a tired eye-roll from most. But there is truth behind his words. While the Star Wars-esque scenario for what a space war would look like is indeed far-fetched, there is one thing all the experts agree on.

“It is absolutely inevitable that we will see conflict move into space,” says Michael Schmitt, professor of public international law and a space war expert at University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.

Space has been eyed up as a military asset almost since the beginning of the space race. During the cold war, Russia and America imagined many kinds of space weapon. One in particular was called the Rods from God or the kinetic bombardment weapon. It was a kind of unmanned space bomber that carried tungsten rods to drop on unsuspecting enemies. As they fell from orbit, the rods gathered so much speed that they delivered the explosive power of a nuclear bomb, but without the radioactive fallout. However, such systems are hideously expensive, probably outlawed by international treaties and the satellites that carry them are easy targets to shoot down.
Space is different from 50 years ago. It was a race between superpowers then; it’s everything now…
What has prompted this latest interest in space war is that the means by which one country can attack another in space have changed dramatically. These days, a frontline space war soldier is most likely to be a state-sponsored hacker sitting at a computer terminal sending rogue commands to confuse or shut down an enemy’s satellites.

“I am convinced beyond a scintilla of doubt… It’s going to happen,” says Schmitt.

Space war is inevitable because today’s modern militaries use space for everything, from spy satellites to a soldier on a mountaintop using satnav to figure out exactly where he or she is. “The reliance upon space is truly extraordinary in contemporary conflict,” says Schmitt. And in any war, one side will seek to deprive the other of their ability to function. In this day and age, that means attacking the satellites.

In May 2014, the Russians launched a mysterious satellite that was seen to be manoeuvring in orbit. Some thought it was the Russians testing a future space weapon because such orbital gymnastics are exactly what would be expected from an attack satellite designed to approach another and put it out of operation. Indeed, the Russians have a history of testing such spacecraft.

“The original but larger Russian manoeuvrable military satellite, Polyot, dates to 1963,” says Brian Harvey, a space analyst and author of The Rebirth of the Russian Space Program (Springer). And it is not just the Russians. “The real experts in developing small, manoeuvrable satellites that change orbits and make multiple interceptions are the Chinese in their Shijian series,” he says.

The Chinese have demonstrated other military space options, too. In 2007, they destroyed one of their own weather satellites using a missile launched from Earth. The FY-1C satellite was at an altitude of 865km and was hit by the missile travelling at 8km/s. The satellite disintegrated into an estimated 150,000 pieces of space debris.

Yet Schmitt thinks that any conflict in space is unlikely to start with such brutal measures. “The immediate form would be cyber-attacks, either against the satellites or the ground stations that control them. It depends on the nature of the conflict whether you go beyond that,” he says.

Although treaties already exist that say you can’t put military installations on the moon or weapons of mass destruction into orbit, there is a decidedly grey area.
Blowing up satellites could trigger a chain reaction that swiftly surrounds the Earth with belts of debris
“Many things can be used for peaceful and military purposes,” says Jan Wörner, director general of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Take the Russian and Chinese manoeuvring satellites as an example. Although Harvey says that these particular tests are probably for military purposes, the ability to rendezvous in space is also an essential technique for China to master in order to achieve its ambition of bringing back moon rock samples to Earth.

Wörner grapples with such duality on a daily basis. The ESA is mandated to pursue only peaceful space exploration and utilisation. As part of that, it is developing ways of removing old spacecraft and pieces of space debris from orbit. However, critics have pointed out that if a piece of technology can track down and grapple a dead satellite out of orbit, it can do the same with a live one – thus becoming a potential weapon.

a soviet technician works on sputnik one in 1957

It is through the creation of space debris that any conflict in orbit would have decidedly Earthbound consequences for us all.

“Space is different from 50 years ago. Then, it was a race between superpowers; today, it is everything. We all rely on space each and every day,” says Wörner. When we wake up in the morning and look at the weather forecast, when we use a satnav to get somewhere we’ve never been before, when we listen to the radio or make a mobile phone call, when we buy things online, the chances are that these signals are mediated by satellites in some way.

The debris cloud created by blowing up satellites can easily collide with other satellites, destroying them and triggering a chain reaction that could swiftly surround the Earth with belts of debris. Orbits would become so unnavigable that our access to space would be completely blocked, and the satellites we rely on smashed to smithereens. This nightmare scenario is known as the Kessler syndrome.

It is clear that if combatants start blowing up each other’s satellites, it risks others not involved in the conflict.

“There is a rule in humanitarian law that says that when conducting a military operation you must choose the method that produces the least collateral damage,” says Schmitt. “So blowing up satellites must be operations of last resort – at least I hope so.”

But, as yet, there is no international law about the creation of space debris. “We need new legal restrictions,” says Wörner, who is putting together a proposal for an ESA programme of space safety and security to safeguard civilian access to space. The agency will develop this proposal over the next 18 months and present it for funding to European science ministers in 2019.

Schmitt is also working to clarify the law. He is part of an international consortium of law, military and space experts who are putting together The Woomera Manual on the International Law of Military Space Operations.

It is an international project that is being sponsored by the University of Exeter, UK, UK; the University of Nebraska, USA; the Universiry of Adelaide and the University of New South Wales, Australia. There are also supporting establishments such as Xiamen University, China, and the US Naval War College, Rhode Island.

“We’re trying to get ahead of the curve. We want to start thinking through the rules of the game before we start playing the game,” says Schmitt. “We did not do that for cyber [war]. It got ahead of the lawyers and we have been playing catch up ever since.”

But are rules really that useful in war? Surely, each combatant simply wants to win.

“I’m not naive,” says Schmitt, “You need to be realistic about what the enemy are likely to do, but compliance with the law is a force multiplier. There is a natural inclination to believe that if you play by the rules and the opponent doesn’t, then the opponent has an advantage. But in fact, you have an advantage because if you comply with the law, your coalition is going to stay intact.”

He explains that in the aftermath of 9/11, when the US started to torture prisoners and hold them at so-called black sites, even close allies stopped cooperating and refused to share intelligence.

“Although it is counterintuitive, compliance with the law will give you an advantage. I think the same is true in space,” says Schmitt.

Last year, under Schmitt’s direction, The Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare was finally published. The Dutch government now conducts the Hague Process, where it sends teams around the world to teach governments this cyber law.

“I would hope we do this in the space context, so it is not just a book on the shelf,” says Schmitt.

And the clock is ticking. With international tensions on the rise, and seemingly daily escalations in the audacity of cyber-attacks, it may only take the smallest trigger to start attacking the satellites. Schmitt has a clear warning: “We cannot wait until it starts happening to then try to figure out what the law is. By then, it will be too late.”

Stuart Clark writes the Guardian’s Across the universe blog

Where do we go from here? The tools of a future conflict
the istrebitel sputnik or fighter satellite

The US, Russia and China have all demonstrated their capability of launching missiles from Earth to intercept and destroy satellites. The US began a research programme to shoot down spacecraft almost as soon as the Russians launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957.

Russia also began to think about taking out enemy satellites. In the early 1960s, they tested a system called Istrebitel Sputnik (fighter satellite). It was designed to approach its target and then explode, destroying both satellites.

Although the project was eventually disbanded, testing and development of similar systems have continued on and off ever since. In 2015, the Russians successfully tested an anti-satellite missile.

In the aftermath of the 2007 Chinese anti-satellite test (see above), America launched its own missile, destroying a failed spy satellite that was gradually falling back to Earth. However, such destructions can cause dangerous clouds of space debris, which endanger other satellites indiscriminately.

one satellite firing a laser at another

Directed energy weapons
In the 1970s, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California, worked on Project Excalibur, which aimed to detonate a nuclear weapon in space. Lasers would then focus the resulting x-rays on to as many as 50 incoming missiles at a time to destroy them as they arced through space towards the US and its allies. The project collapsed through lack of progress and funding, however.

Currently, the primary use of lasers is to dazzle spy satellites and stop them gathering their information. China and Iran are reported to have done this to US satellites and it is likely that the west does the same in return. If the laser lingers on the satellite cameras for too long, however, it could permanently blind the satellite rather than just temporarily dazzle it. The legality of actually damaging a satellite in this way is another grey area.

nasas landsat 7 satellite

Hacking satellites
This is probably where the first strike in a space war will take place. There have been a number of satellite hacks reported over the years, including to Nasa climate satellites in 2007 and 2008 but no permanent damage was reported.

In a conflict, commands to fire thrusters could set the spacecraft spinning helplessly or move them into useless orbits. On Earth in 2009, a purposely written piece of malicious software commanded Iranian nuclear centrifuges to spin too fast, damaging them beyond repair. The same could happen with satellites. Even now, hackers could be working to place artificially intelligent software routines (logic bombs) inside spacecraft control systems. These could be activated when a certain signal is received or an onboard condition is met.

The European Space Agency is currently looking at safeguarding its satellites by developing quantum encryption techniques for future missions. “We have to take cyber attacks seriously,” says director general, Jan Wörner.

lieutenant general robert p ashley junior face in profile

Attack satellites
Think of this as the brute force approach. One satellite simply goes up to another, hits it and knocks it out of orbit. This could damage the attacker as well, so a more sophisticated version is a spacecraft equipped with mechanical arms that grapple the target, pulling off solar panels or instruments.

In other words, it’s robots fighting in space. And if that sounds a bit too much like science fiction, think again says Martin Schmitt of the University of Exeter.

“I don’t think it’s science fiction at all. A lot of these programmes are highly classified, but people in the [military] business are talking about those kinds of operations,” he says.

On 6 March this year, Defense Intelligence Agency director Lt Gen Robert P Ashley Jr testified before the US Senate armed services committee in Washington, DC, and said that Russia and China were developing weapons for use in a space war that included such satellites. It’s a sure bet the US is developing them too.

Oct 1, 2019
206 8
Will LandSpace be China’s SpaceX?
by Chen Lan and Jacqueline Myrrhe
Tuesday, September 3, 2019

On July 25, a Chinese NewSpace company, Interstellar Glory (also known as i-Space or Space Honor), made a successful orbital launch, sending two smallsats into a 300-kilometer orbit. Before that, two other companies, LandSpace and OneSpace, made similar but unsuccessful attempts in October 2018 and March 2019. Interstellar Glory got the glory by winning the race about the first commercial space launch in China. But this was not end of the race. Instead, it marks beginning of a new race: to launch a liquid-propellant medium-class launcher that is able to meet most of the market demand. A small solid launcher is just a ticket to space, while a medium liquid launcher is the key to win the market.

During a visit to LandSpace’s Huzhou facility in March, we have seen more or less the shadow of SpaceX in its early days: dream and passion, failure and success.

Many Chinese NewSpace companies are developing such a capability. Among them, LandSpace is in the leading position. LandSpace has created many “firsts” in China: the first private company to develop space launchers, the first privately funded orbital launch attempt, the first private company to sign a launch agreement with international customers. And on May 17, LandSpace announced that the company’s 80-tonne-class methane and liquid oxygen (methalox) engine, TQ-12, has completed successful full-system hot-fire tests. In the week leading up to that announcement, the engine made four successful test firings, with the longest one lasting 20 seconds. The company released photos and videos showing the engine and the impressive firing at a test stand located in a mountainous area.

LandSpace claimed that their new methalox engine ranks number three in the world after SpaceX’s Raptor and Blue Origin’s BE-4. According to LandSpace, the TQ-12 engine has a sea-level thrust of 67 tonnes and a vacuum thrust of 76 tonnes. A future vacuum model will increase the thrust to 80 tonnes. LandSpace’s methalox engine project was kicked off in 2017 with a 10-tonne-class gas generator and thrust chamber test firing at the end of that year and again in March 2018. After that, LandSpace’s focus shifted to the 80-tonne engine, and in September 2018 and January 2019 it successfully tested the larger engine’s thrust chamber and the gas generator. The fast development led to a semi-system test firing in March 2019, paving the way for the May test firing.


LandSpace CEO Changwu Zhang. (credit: LandSpace)

This was another milestone after the ZQ-1 launch last year, and certainly big news for the Chinese commercial space sector. However, it was very quickly overtaken on Chinese media due to reports on the US ban on Huawei, which happened the day before. At least with the space circle and among space fans, though, the news was quickly spread. LandSpace founder and CEO Changwu Zhang shared the message in WeChat’s “Moments” at the first opportunity with only a few words of comment: “80 tonnes, full-system, 20 seconds, world class”. Interestingly, Mr. Zhang’s WeChat profile photo is an astronaut in spacesuit helmet: Matthew McConaughey, the starring actor of the sci-fi film Interstellar. Does it show LandSpace’s interstellar ambition?

LandSpace is often seen as China’s counterpart of SpaceX. But it is not the only one. Nearly a dozen private rocket companies have emerged in recent years. For now, most of them are small and unnoticeable. Even leading companies like LandSpace are still at an early stage. While undoubtedly it is too early to compare them with SpaceX, that cannot prevent people from imagining the future. SpaceX was also small and had not launched any real rockets in its first three years. In fact, during a visit to LandSpace’s Huzhou facility in March, we have seen more or less the shadow of SpaceX in its early days: dream and passion, failure and success.

LandSpace facilty

Front view of Landspace’s Huzhou manufacturing facility. (credit: LandSpace)

The Huzhou base
The authors have followed LandSpace since its establishment in 2016. In October 2018, one of the authors (Chen Lan) was in Jiuaquan Satellite Launch Centre and witnessed the almost successful LandSpace Zhuque 1 launch (see “A historic day for Chinese NewSpace”, The Space Review, November 19, 2018). In Jiuquan, LandSpace people talked about their newly-built manufacturing base in Huzhou, Zhejiang Province, a city very close to Shanghai (LandSpace’s headquarters and its R&D team are based in Beijing.) The idea to visit the base was born at that time. In late March 2019, Jacqueline Myrrhe, another author and member of the Go Taikonauts! team, came to Shanghai. It seemed this would be a good opportunity to visit LandSpace’s Huzhou Base. Our request through Dr. Shufan Wu, co-founder of LandSpace, was quickly responded to, and the visit was arranged smoothly.

The first sight that greeted us, after we turned into the LandSpace campus, was an impressively huge, strikingly blue factory building that we had never anticipated for such a small startup company.

On March 28, after about two hours of driving from Shanghai in light rain, we arrived in Huzhou. The company is located on a road in the west of the city where few people tread. There, a modern and generously-sized industrial park is taking shape, giving high-tech and other companies favorable conditions for their businesses.

The first sight that greeted us, after we turned into the LandSpace campus, was an impressively huge, strikingly blue factory building that we had never anticipated for such a small startup company. Mr. Du, General Manager of LandSpace’s Huzhou Base, welcomed us at the entrance. At first, he brought us to a long billboard on the outside of the building where he—ignoring the rain—unhurriedly briefed us on the base’s background and recent development. We noticed that there was a photo of the semi-system test firing just made three days before, which may imply the company’s high efficiency.

LandSpace facilty

General Manager Du (right) explains LandSpace’s portfolio. (credit: Go Taikonauts!)

The inner space of the building was also huge, and to our surprise, mostly empty! The only space related hardware we saw was the Zhuque 1 solid launcher and its launch platform. Mr. Du told us that the rocket is a mockup, but the platform is the actual one used in the launch last October. The building has a covered area of nearly 30,000 square meters. It will be divided into several sections for different functions such as engine assembly, tank manufacture, rocket assembly and testing, and so on. The empty space is reserved for rocket manufacture and assembly, as at the moment there were only activities on engine development. We noticed that at two sides of the building, there are some low partitioned rooms. They later turned out to be offices, conference rooms, workshops, testing rooms, and laboratories. The whole team works under one huge roof.

Mr. Du took us to a conference room and started a well-prepared presentation about the company, the Huzhou Base, and the products they are developing. Du is the type of engineer you would trust straight away, whom you would give without hesitation your best car for repair. His calm charisma, his unruffled way of talking, and his sound explanations are convincing and give him the aura of seniority. Before his move to Huzhou he worked in the Academy of Aerospace Propulsion Technology (The 6th Academy of CASC) in Xi’an and was an engine manufacture expert. He joined LandSpace to lead the team in building the engine and the facility, including the factory building converted from an old one once belonging to a bankrupted heavy industrial machinery company, and a newly built engine test stand in the mountains 20 kilometers away that was claimed to be the first and the only one by a private company in China. The construction work started in March 2018, and in August the stand was put into use. Du was quite proud of making it in such a short time. When asked about the possibility to visit the test stand, Du said it was in refurbishment to prepare the full-system engine test planned in June (in fact it was done ahead of schedule.) He suggested to us to visit it next time as moving around at the construction site would be difficult on a rainy day.

LandSpace facilty

Inside the brand-new manufacturing hall. From the left: Chen Lan, Estella Ding, Jacqueline Myrrhe, Mr. Du. (credit: Qin Chun)

Ambitious plans
On July 5, 2018, LandSpace announced the company’s overall strategy and planned products in Beijing. The grand launch event was held in the National Aquatic Center, built for the 2008 Olympics and well known as the Water Cube. The company’s strategic product, the Zhuque 2 liquid-fueled launcher, made its first appearance at the event. Zhuque 2 (or ZQ-2) is a medium-class launcher with a length of 48.8 meters, a diameter of 3.35 meters, a launch mass of 216 tonnes, and a lifting thrust of 268 tonnes. Its first stage has four Tianque 12 (TQ-12) methalox engines and the second stage will be equipped with a single vacuum version of TQ-12 together with an 8-tonne-thrust TQ-11 methalox engine as a vernier engine. It is capable of sending 1.8 tonnes of payload into a 500 kilometer Sun-synchronous orbit and four tonnes to a 200-kilometer low Earth orbit. LandSpace has also planned three variants—ZQ-2A, 2B, and 2C—with an additional third stage powered by a TQ-11 and either zero, two, or four strap-on boosters. They have a length of 55.7 meters, a launch mass of 236, 650, and 1030 tonnes, and a geostationary transfer orbit capability of 2.4, 6.7, and 14 tonnes, respectively.

LandSpace also released a conceptual design of a two-stage winged space launcher able to send 10 people to the space station or transport 100 people from and to any place on the Earth within one hour. However, the current focus of the company, and also key to its ambitious planning, is the methalox engine, something that even CASC has not much experience with. The Institute 11 of CALT once developed a prototype based on the cryogenic YF-77 engine with a thrust of 60 tonnes, but never put it into use. To guarantee success within shortest time, LandSpace selected a conservative design using the traditional gas generator cycle with an impressive specific impulse of 350 seconds (vacuum). Bn comparison, SpaceX’s first methalox engine Raptor is a cutting-edge full-flow staged combustion cycle engine with specific impulse of 380 seconds (vacuum).

LandSpace launch stand

The platform used for the launch of ZQ-1 in October 2018. (credit: LandSpace)

Currently, engine development is also the most important job of the Huzhou Base. Mr. Du showed us the video of the semi-system test firing done three days before. It was a beautiful test firing, though the stand looked simple and preliminary. Since China has, so far, no launch site supporting methane propellant, we asked where LandSpace’s methalox rockets will be launched. Du answered that they have already been in discussion with the authority to build new facilities at an existing launch site to support launches of methane-based rockets. Once built, it will be shared by all state-owned and private launcher companies. He was quite confident that there will be no major obstacles.

There was a bit of magic and surrealism hanging in the air when watching the engineers counting the screws, sorting the bolts, and inspecting the engine parts in this over-dimensioned huge hall, which could easily fit a production line.

After the presentation and a casual talk in the conference room, Mr. Du guided us to a few facilities including the component testing room, the fluid flow test bench, and finally a large clean area where the just-tested engine was under the process of disintegration.

There was a bit of magic and surrealism hanging in the air when watching the engineers counting the screws, sorting the bolts, and inspecting the engine parts in this over-dimensioned huge hall, which could easily fit a production line. But for the moment two smaller groups around small tables and a support rack were focused on their precision work. They were not bothered by our visit, did not interrupt their work, or pay any attention to the curious visitors. The one group, busy with the engine casing, was led by a senior engineer assisted by young space experts. The other group, sorting the hardware nuts and bolts, bits, and pieces were young and middle-aged engineers. Watching them as a visitor one could not really get the impression that they felt lost in the enormous space. Rather, they filled the room with dedication and zealous efforts to get the job done.

The base will soon start Phase Two construction. Once it is completed, it is able to produce 200 engines and 15 launchers per year, said Mr. Du.

TQ-12 engine

The TQ-12 engine (credit: LandSpace)
TQ-12 engine

Right time, right place, and right people
The Huzhou Base and LandSpace’s fast progress are impressive. It was unimaginable just a few years ago, when people always thought that space is a strictly restricted area by the government, and that space technology is too complex to be achieved by private companies. It has to thank the new policies the Chinese government have launched in recent years, more or less under pressure from Elon Musk. The reason behind the emergence of LandSpace is exactly as a Chinese proverb says: right time, right place, and right people. LandSpace is one of the first space startups in China and it seized the opportunity. This is the right time.

Huzhou City government provided a 200 million RMB (US$27.9 million) fund to support LandSpace’s engine and rocket manufacturing plan. It also gave LandSpace free rental of the land and the building, and soon will build an office building and a canteen for Landspace for free use. Zhejiang Province, where Huzhou is located, and adjacent Shanghai, belong to China’s most developed economic zone with a mature manufacturing industry chain, which will largely support LandSpace’s manufacturing base. This is the right place.

However, Huzhou is only a “small city” for Chinese standards with residential population of three million. It has only two colleges and not many high-tech companies. Fortunately, it has a large enough supply of technical workers, and good policies to attract external talents. In LandSpace’s Huzhou Base, most people are from large cities like Beijing and Xi’an. Most people are also from the so-called “national team,” that implies state-owned space organizations and companies. Finally, most people are young and have a higher degree. Among them, about ten percent are female, including some in a high technical position, according to Mr. Du.

test stand

The fluid flow test stand. (credit: Go Taikonauts!)

They mostly come to this small city following their dream. Mr. Du is one of them. As one of the eldest in the team, he admitted that joining LandSpace is an adventure, but he is very optimistic about both LandSpace and Chinese NewSpace. On many occasions, we saw this special expression of passion based on professionalism in Mr. Du’s face. He told us that he likes the mix of young and old engineers within the teams. Even more so, he is committed to transfer his experience to the next generation of engineers, “to the rocket scientists of the future,” as he stressed. We did not have the chance to talk with young people at the base. They all were absorbed by their work. There was no way to get them away from their activities. But what they have achieved already told us without a big explanation is that these are the right people, the “right stuff.”

Interstellar Glory’s Hyperbola 1 became the first rocket made by a Chinese private company to reach orbit. Now, who will win the second round of the race?

It seems that the launch failure last October has had no impact on the company. Less than one month after the failure, LandSpace signed the B+ series funding of 300 million RMB (US$41.8 million.) Du said he did not rule out the possibility to try to launch the solid Zhuque 1 again, as long as there are requirements to do so. However, their focus is now on the Zhuque 2. LandSpace has now entered the fast lane. It is definitely the leading private company in China on liquid rocket engine development, and is the one closest to an operational medium launcher. On April 26, it signed 100 million RMB (US$13.9 million) of agreements with UK-based Open Cosmos and Italy-based D-Orbit to launch their cubesats.

LandSpace plans to launch their first Zhuque 2 by the end of 2020. So far, everything seems to be going smoothly. However, it is still a big challenge for the company. There is still a long way to go to catch up with SpaceX.

ZQ-2 announcement

LandSpace announced the ZQ-2 launcher in Beijing. (credit: LandSpace)

A space race that is heating up
LandSpace kicked off China’s NewSpace race in last October with its ZQ-1 launch, followed by OneSpace in March this year. Just one day before our visit to Huzhou, OneSpace launched their first orbital rocket, the solid fueled OS-M, from Jiuquan. Unfortunately, it lost attitude after separation of the first stage. The winner was Interstellar Glory. Its Hyperbola 1 became the first rocket made by a Chinese private company to reach orbit. Now, who will win the second round of the race?

LandSpace, OneSpace, and Interstellar Glory are not the only players in this race. Galactic Energy, LinkSpace, Deep Blue Aerospace, Space Trek, and others are all developing their engines/motors and rockets. Most companies start with a smaller solid rocket, but all have plans of liquid engines. For example, Interstellar Glory is developing a 15-tonne-thrust methalox engine that has already completed gas generator and turbopump tests. Galactic Energy is currently developing a high-thrust solid motor, and has also started development of a 40-tonne-thrust (sea level) liquid oxygen and kerosene engine to power their WisdomStart 1 launcher that is within the same class as LandSpace’s ZQ-2. JZYJ, a company focused on liquid propulsion instead of launch vehicles, test fired their 10-tonne-class throttleable methalox engine on July 25.

test stand

Rendering of the Landspace’s Huzhou test range, showing the completed site. (credit: LandSpace)
test stand

LinkSpace, by contrast, follows a different path. Their efforts are concentrated on a reusable VTVL (vertical takeoff, vertical landing) rocket. On August 10, they successfully launched and recovered their eight-meter-long RLV-T5 prototype. The flight lasted 50 seconds, climbing to a maximum altitude of 300 meters. It was a milestone as this was the first free flight of their “large rocket” (all their previous VTVL rockets are mocked by people as “model rockets.”) On the same day, it signed an agreement with JZYJ to use their engine to power the larger T6 VTVL prototype.

LandSpace remains the most promising one. Ironically, its ambition was shown in an April Fool’s news report. It said that LandSpace and Taobao, China’s largest C2C e-Commerce company, are jointly developing two express delivery rockets: one able to complete an intercontinental flight within one hour, and another for 30 kilometers in 30 seconds.

The race is heating up, not only within China, but also outside the country. LandSpace and its domestic competitors, as followers and challengers of SpaceX, all claim that reusability was in their consideration from the beginning. SpaceX may one day feel pressure from these newcomers when their technologies are matured in a few years, which is certain to happen.

SpaceX may one day feel pressure from these newcomers when their technologies are matured in a few years, which is certain to happen.

From a broader perspective, the race is also part of a much larger race between China and the US. Unfortunately, the Sino-American trade war is now evolving into a tech war that may permanently change the world order. It will deeply influence China’s policy and will speed up the development of independent technologies. What will the incoming race bring? We just hope a mutual-beneficial competition and win-win, instead of a conflict, or even a war.

When we walked out of the building, the rain had stopped. And we always believe that the future is bright.

Huzhou facility

Aerial view of Landspace’s Huzhou manufacturing facility. The hall is the biggest manufacturing base for a commercial space company in Asia. (credit: LandSpace)
Chen Lan is an independent analyst and a freelance writer. He is also co-founder of the Go Taikonauts! web site and electronic magazine ( that provides in-depth reports on the Chinese space program.

Jacqueline Myrrhe is a free-lance space journalist for the German magazine “Raumfahrt Concret” and English language newsletter on Chinese space activities “Go Taikonauts!”. She has 19 years of working experience in an international space organization.
Oct 1, 2019
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China's Plans to Dominate Space

Since the days of Jiang Zemin, Chinese military-strategic guidelines have emphasised the requirement for the People’s Liberation Army to focus on ‘informatisation’ as a key component of its modernisation efforts. The essential requirement for informatisation is not lost on Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is making a determined effort to ensure that PLA modernisation is complete by 2035 and that it results in a ‘world-class’ force capable of fighting and winning wars anywhere by 2050. Space capability and ‘space power’ are central components of PLA informatisation and China is developing sophisticated thinking and capability for waging war in space.

The key document driving the modernisation agenda is China’s 2015 defence white paper, which notes that: ‘Outer space has become a commanding height in international strategic competition. Countries concerned are developing their space forces and instruments, and the first signs of weaponisation of outer space have appeared.’

The 2015 white paper also resulted in the formation of the PLA Strategic Support Force, which was created as part of a major reorganisation of the PLA. The PLASSF focuses on the roles of space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum in Chinese military operations, and highlights doing more in space as a priority for the PLA. It is the PLASSF that leads development of Chinese military space doctrine, including PLA counterspace doctrine, while the PLA Rocket Force controls operationally deployed anti-satellite weapons (ASATs).

China’s testing of ASATs—including, notably, the January 2007 test that destroyed a defunct Chinese satellite in low-earth orbit (LEO)—has transformed the nature of the space domain. No longer a peaceful sanctuary that sits above terrestrial geopolitical rivalries, space is fast becoming a contested warfighting domain. China has conducted numerous tests of counterspace capabilities over the past few years, including both direct-ascent delivery systems for kinetic-kill ASATs, potentially out to geostationary orbit, and more sophisticated co-orbital capabilities suitable for ‘soft kill’ systems and intelligence gathering.

Other nations are responding to China’s actions. The 2008 US ‘Burnt Frost’ demonstration of an ASAT capability and, more recently, the Trump administration’s decision to establish a US space force are driven by Chinese (and Russian) counterspace capabilities. India tested its own ASAT last month, primarily as a response to the threat posed by Chinese capabilities.

China hasn’t formally released a space warfighting doctrine and instead repeats boilerplate foreign affairs rhetoric claiming that it ‘always adheres to the principle of use of outer space for peaceful purposes and opposes the weaponisation of or an arms race in outer space’. This bland statement contrasts with the thinking on space warfare coming out of Chinese military institutions and academies.

A recent assessment of global counterspace capabilities by the Secure World Foundation cites primary sources inside China’s space policy community that consistently emphasise the need for the PLA to control space and deny access to adversaries. The report suggests that China has a requirement to achieve space superiority, defined as ‘ensuring one’s ability to fully use space while at the same time limiting, weakening, and destroying an adversary’s space forces’. They note that Chinese thinkers argue that ‘whoever controls space will control the Earth’.

The analysis gives us an insight into what Chinese military analysts thinks space warfare might be like. China would ‘strive to attack first at the campaign and tactical levels in order to maintain the space battlefield initiative’. The military’s intent should be to ‘conceal the concentration of its forces and make a decisive large-scale first strike’. That sounds like the classical concept of a ‘space Pearl Harbor’ that’s designed to eliminate US and allied space-based C4ISR (command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) satellites, leaving their terrestrial forces deaf, dumb and blind, and unable to undertake joint and integrated information-based operations.

China pursues a dual-track approach of building successive generations of more capable satellites to support the PLA in achieving informatisation and developing a suite of counterspace capabilities to shut out its opponents. Space is vital to the PLA’s ability to conduct anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) operations at long range against US and allied forces. Without Chinese satellites for long-range communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and precision navigation and timing, its A2/AD capabilities simply won’t be effective. At the same time, counterspace capabilities can function as part of A2/AD by threatening vital Western C4ISR capabilities prior to, or at the outset of, a major military conflict.

China’s 2007 ASAT test generated a massive cloud of space debris that drew international opprobrium. Since then, Beijing has focused on exploring the potential of more sophisticated co-orbital and soft-kill technologies. A report prepared in 2015 for the US–China Economic and Security Review Commission points to an increased emphasis in China’s ASAT and counterspace efforts on directed-energy weapons, electronic warfare, jamming and dazzling, as well as cyberattack methods such as spoofing, rather than physical destruction.

That assessment is reinforced by both the Secure World Foundation analysis and the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ 2019 space threat assessment. China continues to develop co-orbital systems that could fulfil an on-orbit servicing or space-based space situational awareness role. They could also potentially be applied to an ASAT role using soft-kill mechanisms such as jamming.

The PLA’s military space capability is likely to be supported by increasingly sophisticated and capable satellite networks—including, notably, the broader application of the Beidou global navigation system, which China is rapidly completing. This will offer the PLA an alternative to US GPS in support of joint warfare and precision strike, and better support power projection by the PLA Navy and PLA Air Force in far-flung operations, such as in the Indian Ocean region.

China’s space access will continue to rest on a government-run space program led by the PLA and the China National Space Administration. However, a Chinese commercial space sector seems to be on the horizon, which could see China emulate the ‘Space 2.0’ approach that has led to the likes of SpaceX. That could mean the development of spaceplane technology and, potentially, reusable rocket systems which would make it easier for China to access and use space more quickly. Chinese counterspace capabilities would benefit from the dual-role application of ballistic missile defence and the potential for co-orbital systems capable of rendezvous and proximity operations.

In part 2, I’ll consider where China’s human space activities fit into military space power, including the astrostrategic significance of the moon as ‘high ground’ for the 2030s and beyond and draw implications for the shape of future warfare.

This article by Malcolm Davis first appeared in the Australian Strategic Policy Insitute’s The Strategist in 2019.
Oct 11, 2019
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I've long had this idea that Pak can turn its relatively small size (as compared to India for example) in somewhat of an advantage.

With just a few satellites, Pak can monitor Indian movement on its borders and at sea(Pak's maritime borders near India) in real time.

Pak can secretly launch these satellites into geosynchronous orbits onboard Chinese rockets. Keep it super secretive with only the necessary personnel knowing about it and it would do wonders in peace and war time. In a prolonged war if Pak's AWACS and other long range radars are taken out...Pak can still see enemy movement and prepare a response accordingly. They can also be used to fire long range cruise missiles like Babur at IN ships at sea with targetting info provided by these eye in the sky satellites.
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Nov 27, 2014
2,608 31
Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
Unfortunately, launching defense satellites over US based platforms is likely prohibitive. And even if possible, expect sabotage, tracking sensors and kill-switches covertly installed prior to launch.
That is factually incorrect. Saudi Arabia launched a new satellite recently through SpaceX and kill switch is a myth.



Staff member
Nov 25, 2014
1,717 14
The Saudi satellite was commercial (Arabsat), I'm referring mostly to military ones.
The difference between military and commercial is very slim. In fact, many countries rely on commercial sats for military purposes. I don't think the US or any other countries has any say in what they are launching to space. You get what you pay for. You bring the sat, they launch it.
Oct 1, 2019
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The difference between military and commercial is very slim. In fact, many countries rely on commercial sats for military purposes. I don't think the US or any other countries has any say in what they are launching to space. You get what you pay for. You bring the sat, they launch it.
NSA has backdoors everywhere - semi-conductors, ISPs, social media companies, large corporations, you name it. China is investing huge amounts of money trying to wean itself away from American semi-conductors.

A Pakistani satellite being launched by an American company, would they really let pass the opportunity to backdoor it? They wouldn't even do it illegally, the FISA court can mandate it and place a gag order.