What is the motivation of China's manned space program?

Now that the US has called it quits, China seems to have the most interesting space program. Russia doesn’t seem to be developing beyond their current capabilities. And that’s not likely to change anytime soon, EU and India’s efforts notwithstanding.


But why? Is it just for geopolitical prestige? It’s been said that China’s politicians can think in 50 year plans and 100 year plans since they don’t have to fight for every election. Is it possibly because China fears a resource crunch in 50 years time and sees asteroid mining as a commercially viable operation by then?

There is a list of stated goals of the Chinese space program on the wiki page but none of them provide the reason behind a manned space program. Of course having their own satellite launch capability and own GPS constellation makes economic sense.

So why the manned program?

Status. Cultural pride. Inspiration for the people. To extend the boundaries of the nation and start learning how to build things and go places in space. The same reason the Americans and the Russians did it.

I’m not sure what you see so impressive about their program, though. They’ve announced many plans over the years, some grandiose, but they don’t seem to be actually achieving a lot. Notice that the Wiki page has material on it that’s quite old.

To date, China has managed a manned orbital flight and an unmanned orbit of the moon. Their ambitious plans would be wonderful to see, and I hope China keeps pushing forward into space, but I have my doubts. The country’s GDP is only about 3.5 trillion dollars - about double the U.S.'s deficit. It’s hard to see them being able to afford the kind of investments necessary for ‘space cities’ and moon bases.

Frankly, I think the commercial space industry in the U.S. is more impressive. SpaceX has already launched a 7-person capsule (the Dragon) into orbit and landed it safely (unmanned). Dragon is modern, capable of docking with the ISS, and has a heat shield capable of withstanding re-entry speeds from lunar or Martian return missions.

SpaceX has a rocket already in commercial use, the Falcon 1. The The Falcon 9 is capable of putting serious tonnage into orbit, and the recently announced Falcon Heavy can put 53,000 kg in orbit - twice as much as the Space Shuttle, and will be the second-largest rocket ever flown, second only to the Saturn V.

In fact, China has announced that it is unable to compete with SpaceX’s launch prices.

China has a stated goal of a manned program to Mar’s by 2040 and I think they are the only country that now has that.

Sam, have you been to China? I would guess not. I am in Shanghai right now, researching starting a business here and moving here permanently (well for 5-10 years at least). There’s all kinds of stuff here in Shanghai that a country with a average GDP of only $7500 US per year just should not be able to afford.

You have to remember that China’s labour costs, even for high tech space experts are much much lower than the US so they can buy a lot more per yuan on their space program than the US does. In Shanghai a skilled native university graduate will get paid $25-$30,000 per year and that’s a good wage in China.

If China makes manned exploration of mar’s a serious goal, they’ll do it, they don’t have fickleness of changes of governments to worry about. As for a revolution, not going to happen, the current generation are far too happy getting rich and buying mercedes, BMW’s and ipads to have another go at regime change.

What the fuck are you talking about?

Just stating the facts. 10 percent growth per year for last 10 years seems to have put a dampener on any serious protest movements in china. The current generation of new graduate university students are far too busy getting rich to protest and yes bmws mercedes and iPads are everywhere i’n shanghai.

How long will that growth rate be sustained?

Of course if you’re in Shanghai or Beijing China doesn’t seem like a poor country. But there’s a vast hinterland with hundreds of millions of peasants who are still dirt poor. China has a long way before it can catch up with Mexico in per-capita GDP.

Personally I’m willing to bet that China’s long term growth potential is a lot more assured than the US’s. China has not blown the last 10 years of tax revenue on two pointless wars and bailing out the people that started the whole financial crisis in the first place like some other super power I won’t mention.

China is investing it’s income in infrastructure, like the world’s largest high speed rail network (currently 9600 km and aiming for 45,000 km by 2015), hydropower, Nuclear power stations and research like the Chinese developed Supercapacitor zero emissions buses that are running successfully on Shanghai’s streets on commercial routes right now.

The figure above is outdated, China’s GDP is 5.8 trillion, NOT 3.5. Assuming they drop to 7 percent growth on average they’ll pass the US as world’s largest economy in 17 years. Allowing for some hiccups lets say 25 years.

It says a lot for the US failures that a communist country is currently offering a much better environment for an entrepreneur than the supposed bastion of capitalism. Lets see the fox pundits heads explode trying to wrap their heads around the cognitive dissonance on that simple truth.

So anyway, none of that has anything to do with their motivations for a manned space program. Anyone want to discuss that?

The People’s Republic of China hasn’t been “communist” in any meaningful economic sense for going on 2 or 3 decades now. China is a capitalist country (albeit with a much cosier relationship between business & government than in the US). It has retained the communist politcal system, and that’s not likely to change at all anytime soon.

Read the goals of the 2011-2015 five year plan of the CPC here:

among them is “address rising inequality and create an environment for more sustainable growth by prioritizing more equitable wealth distribution, increased domestic consumption, and improved social infrastructure and social safety nets.” That’s socialist even if it isn’t communist.

Again this has got nothing to do with the reason for their manned space program, anyone? Bueller?

Right now space is comparitively marginal except for two main areas- telecommunications and earth surveillance. That could change in the future however, especially if denial of space/ destruction of space based assets via anti-sat capabilities becomes crucial in any future conflict. The Chinese are keeping their hand in against the chance that 20-30 years down the road having a major space capacity becomes vital to national security, economic competativeness, or both.

thanks lumpy thats the first sensible observation in this whole thread!

Translation: “this is the first post that agrees with me!”

If so, either they have airy imaginations or they know something about physics or technology we don’t. At the present state of technology, the Moon would not be worth mining if it were made of solid gold with petroleum oceans. Not even Antarctica can be mined profitably, and the problems of working in an isolated subzero environment and digging through a mile of ice to scratch the dirt are trivial compared to those of mining astral bodies.

A robust space program will help their image and be a testing lab for new and better technology. It is a win for them. Innovation and the technology of the future are created when you have a need. The space program is such a need. Making things smaller and more powerful is a need in the space program. New solutions to old problems come from it.
The spillover from the program are new products and new industries. Ergo a brighter future.

It is also a work program for technical workers and highly skilled professionals.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not all that concerned about jobs programs for high earners.

As Robert A. Heinlein said: “Earth is too small and fragile a basket for humanity to put all of its eggs in.”

These days, I daresay the desire for smaller and cooler cellphones is driving that engine.

Except that so far we haven’t found anything halfway resembling an alternate basket.

Rocket-based propulsion is unlikely to ever be commercially viable, mining or no.* If the Chinese were thinking along those lines, they’d be developing a space elevator or launch loop.

  • Ignoring the possibility of launching billionaires into space, for tourism purposes.