Motive? China shares words of love for SpaceX

Special to, November 22, 2023


By Richard Fisher

It’s been a tough week for SpaceX and Elon Musk, but they are getting some rare sympathy from China.

At 8 a.m. EST on Nov. 18, from the SpaceX launchpad at Boca Chica, the second Starship two-stage heavy space launch vehicle (SLV) — the largest in the world at 11 million pounds — made a successful launch, igniting all 33 Raptor engines on its first stage for the first time.

On Nov. 18, the SpaceX Starship achieved successful staging separation on its second test, but the second stage was soon destroyed and the full test was not completed. / SpaceX

But after a successful stage separation, the Starship second stage triggered an auto-destruct mechanism at about 8 minutes into its flight, which SpaceX called a “rapid unscheduled disassembly,” barely reaching orbit at an altitude of 92 miles.

In the SpaceX doctrine of “failing forward,” that much more of the Starship worked during its second test flight, even though it did not achieve its full goal of a nearly orbital flight with a simulated reentry, was positive progress.

But will SpaceX make sufficient progress to make the National Aeronautics and Space Administration goal, so far, of doing its part to put American back on the Moon by 2025?

During an Oct. 18 U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing, in response to this concern expressed by Sen. Ted Cruz, SpaceX Vice President William Gerstenmaier said, “It’s hard to say.”

At that same hearing Gerstenmaier had expressed frustration with the slow pace of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Space Transportation in granting launch licenses for Starship.

But licenses are not the only issue preventing SpaceX from keeping on schedule.

Before Starship becomes NASA’s Human Landing System, if must complete an orbital flight, demonstrate that its first and second stage can recover and land back on Earth, demonstrate Low Earth Orbit refueling, reach and land on the Moon, and then refuel and return to Earth and land on Earth.

But what is surprising is a rare display of sympathy for SpaceX in the Chinese state media hardline publication Global Times.

In a Nov. 19 article, Global Times cited “renowned Chinese aerospace engineer” Huang Zhicheng saying,”Compared to the first test flight in April, this second trial has shown remarkable progress and great success.”

Global Times then added, “Chinese netizens showed much love for the Spaceship and expressed encouragement to SpaceX founder Elon Musk to keep on grinding on the steel colossus for more tests, in what Chinese observers call ‘big hearts for the human space exploration despite US unilateral suppressing against China’s space development from a geopolitical standpoint.’”

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