Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Melting Asteroid Metals With Martian Sunlight

(Hat Tip: Gizmodo and Dark Roasted Blend)

Whether or not we head to the asteroid belt before Mars, one thing is clear--while we may have the means to land upon and (hopefully) sift the metal from "the rubble" (or useless rocky material), we probably will be unable to inexpensively melt the metals on site.

Even though lasers are always an option, future colonists may not be too thrilled with using extra power to melt down the space metals, as that would only add to the overall cost of shipping the material elsewhere.

While some may be content to pass the cost onto the customer, it may be cheaper (and wiser) to ship the metals to the red planet in order to have the metals melted down via Martian sunlight.

Since Martian sunlight operates at half the strength of Earth's, the solar furnace would probably have to be slightly altered to achieve the same strength as its bluer big brother.

Although some may suggest that the future asteroid mining industry could simply ship the metals to Earth, it may be wiser to divert the route towards Mars, as the red planet orbits about 100 million kilometers closer (at Aphelion) than Earth.

Martian colonists would also have the advantage of utilizing the crimson worlds two orbiting moons, allowing mining fleets to melt their metals upon either Phobos or Deimos without having to land on the Martian surface (which has a fairly steep gravity well).

Either way, Mars may play a critical role in our quest to colonize the solar system (which may make it a prime spot for future real estate).

NASA To Earth: Lets Keep Our Lunar Skies Clean

Aside from radiation, perhaps nothing is more dangerous in space than space junk. While our home world is protected by a thick atmosphere that tends to burn up small objects, Earth's little sister is left defenseless against the potential threat of space debris.

In order to prevent future colonists from having to live underground do to the threat of an incoming loose bolt, NASA instead will take steps ensure we do not "junk up" the lunar heavens for future generations.

( "NASA's new robotic lunar exploration program and the eventual return of astronauts to the moon dictated that we address potential debris in lunar orbit," explained Nicholas Johnson, Chief Scientist for Orbital Debris at the NASA Johnson Space Center. "The new NASA procedural requirements for orbital debris mitigation identifies the issue of the disposal of objects in lunar orbit and assigns responsibilities for ensuring that end-of-mission actions do not pose a threat to future lunar missions or to operations on the lunar surface."

This threat arises from the fact that any object dropping out of lunar orbit would impact the surface at a near horizontal 5,000 miles per hour. Very unhealthy for any astronaut in the line of fire and a potential danger to historic Apollo landing sites.

Keeping the Moons skies junk free will probably require an international effort, as most worlds in our solar system lack an atmosphere to provide a "buffer" against these tiny (yet potentially fatal) threats.

Astronauts already have to worry about incoming space rocks, and the last item they (and future space settlers) need to focus on is junk from previous missions endangering their lives.

NASA's New Rovers: The Future In Off World Safari's?

After previously teasing the space community with concepts of their future lunar rover, NASA has finally revealed a prototype to the public.

What sets this rover apart from its giant robotic cousins is the fact that this rover will enable future colonists to explore the lunar surface for weeks at a time.

(New Scientist Space) The new prototype has a pressurised cab and is fitted out with leather seats and bunks. It would allow a crew of two astronauts to take extended exploration trips for up to two weeks at a time, covering distances of up to 1000 km, Craig said. [...]

The crew would not wear spacesuits while in the vehicle, which is fitted with large windows offering extensive views of the terrain. But to step outside, they would slip into spacesuits mounted on the outside of the vehicle through special hatches in the rover, officials said.

"You are only in a spacesuit when you need to be on the surface picking up rocks," said astronaut Mike Gernhardt, a veteran of four space shuttle missions and a pioneering spacewalk, as he took reporters for a spin in the rover.
While it would be wise for NASA to consider taking along a few new spacesuits, these mobile rovers may become the standard for off world traveling as it would enable future settlements to send scouting parties in order to locate valuable resources.

It would also reduce the risk of astronauts inhaling moon dust, allowing them to remain in their "cozy" lunar trailer.

Even thought NASA has a long ways to go before they begin establishing the first lunar base on the Moon, its good to see the agency develop innovative ways at roaming the lunar surface (instead of repeating what they did during the glory days of Apollo).

Friday, October 24, 2008

Video: Next Decade Could See SpaceX On The Moon

(Hat Tip: Space Transport News)

After successfully launching their Falcon 1 rocket, SpaceX is aiming at not only sending cargo and crew to the International Space Station, but also potentially landing people on the Moon by the next decade.

Click on the image below to watch.

Note: Did any of you catch the reference to Mars? :-)

Water, Water Everywhere (But None On Luna To Drink)

After previously hoping to find ice water within the shadowy craters of Luna, it looks as if the Moon harbor less water than most terrestrial deserts.

(New Scientist Space) The Shackleton Crater on the south pole had been a prominent candidate for a future base station, since it contains a ledge on its rim that would have been an ideal landing spot. [...]

A team led by Junichi Haruyama of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in Kanagawa analysed images of the crater taken on these brighter days. The images were snapped by the spacecraft's Terrain Camera, which can resolve objects as small as 10 metres across. [...]

But according to Pieters, the most striking feature was what was missing. "If there had been nice, clean ice, we'd have seen brighter reflections from its surface – but none were visible," she told New Scientist. Instead, the images just revealed dull lunar soil.

Despite this setback, the Moon is still a valuable asset to the Earth/Space economy, as its helium-3 could help power our world (for thousands of years to come), while extracting oxygen from lunar rock may provide explorers with enough air and fuel to conquer the asteroid belt.

While Plaskett crater may hold more hope for us in the future, we should seriously consider the idea of exporting water (en mass) to future lunar colonies, or even importing it from water rich dwarf worlds such as Ceres.

Planning For Martian Success: Its The Crew Structure Stupid!

The biggest factor determining the success of a future Mars mission may not reside in how well we deal with radiation, gravity or even energy.

Since the first Martian crews will probably be unable to bring either their families, pets or farm animals along, the key to success may reside in the crew structure itself.

(Astrobiology Magazine) Despite the legacy of the Russian experiment, the Mars Society, a non-profit educational and scientific organization headed by Robert Zubrin, conducted its own test to see how people behave during a simulated space mission. From April to August 2007, a science crew of seven camped out at the "Flashline" Mars Arctic Research Station (F-MARS) on Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic.

The total time spent in Mars simulation was 101 days. All went extremely well, according to Kim Binsted, Melissa Battler, and Kathryn Bywaters, three of the participants. In addition to living in close confinement, they conducted research in the field, donning space suits for each expedition outdoors, just as a real Mars crew would.

Battler, now a PhD student at the University of Western Ontario, was the group commander. She says the team – which was composed of four men and three women -- consulted with each other in a cooperative style, rather than following a strict military-style hierarchy of command.

This cooperative approach may be a wiser alternative than the command style, as team members may feel that they each have equal input into the success of the mission, instead of feeling like an worker drone, whose only purpose is to carry out the commands of the leadership.

Note: Either way, it may be wise to consider bringing Fido along, in order to help keep the future Martians from getting home sick.

Belated: Solar Rods For Mars?

(Hat Tip: Engadget and Make)

(Image Credit: Solyndra)

Whether or not you believe the future of humanity lies upon the red planet one thing is clear--traditional solar panels are not a practical option for energy.

Since Mars receives approximately half of the solar energy that Earth does, future outposts will probably require a lot more panels than a regular outpost on the Moon. Worse, Martian winds could easily rip solar panels off of future outposts, a common problem on Earth.

Instead of relying upon expensive, silicon solar panels that may become easily damaged, future colonists may opt for something a little bit rounder (and less expensive).

(Solyndra) Solyndra's panels employ cylindrical modules which capture sunlight across a 360-degree photovoltaic surface capable of converting direct, diffuse and reflected sunlight into electricity. Solyndra's panels perform optimally when mounted horizontally and packed closely together, thereby covering significantly more of the typically available roof area and producing more electricity per rooftop on an annual basis than a conventional panel installation. The result is significantly more solar electricity per rooftop per year.

The Solyndra system is lightweight and the panels allow wind to blow through them. These factors enable the installation of PV on a broader range of rooftops without anchoring or ballast, which are inherently problematic. The horizontal mounting and unique "air-flow" properties of Solyndra's solar panel design substantially simplify the installation process for Solyndra's PV systems. The ease of installation and simpler mounting hardware of the Solyndra system enables its customers to realize significant savings on installation costs.

While larger colonies will probably eventually rely upon solar thermal plants for energy (as the output is probably greater), smaller outposts may choose to rely upon these less expensive solar rods instead (as it will help drop the price tag of sending the first man and woman to the red planet).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Big Tent Edition)

Last weeks Carnival of Space was hosted by Chuck over at Lounge of the Lab Lemming which featured posts ranging from Kentucky fried rockets to black holes living within moons to even musing about Ceres's little brother, Pallas.

One article that really caught my eye was a post by Ray Villard of Cosmic Ray with an interesting way to explore the surfaces of both Mars and Saturn's moon Titan.

(Cosmic Ray) The dragonfly-on-steroids is called ExoFly, a nimble flapping aerobot being prototyped at the Technical University Delft, Wageningen University in the Netherlands. [...]

In the past few years engineers have gotten a better understanding of the complexities of insect flight and have been able to mechanically duplicate them. Having a small flexible machine capable of flying, hovering, landing and taking off like an insect would open up a new exploration niches that it not easily reachable by rovers or airborne vehicles on far flung worlds.

These small flying robots are ideal for Mars, as well as for Titan exploration. Their tiny onboard cameras would give a unique view of geological terrain that is quantitative different from a rover's view or high-resolution orbital reconnaissance.

The prototype ExoFly weighs less than an ounce, has a wingspan of only a foot, and can fly for 12 minutes on batteries.
These mechanical creatures would be an added bonus for future colonists as well, as they could scan the tops of cliffs (on either Mars or Titan) to help determine whether its safe to stand upon (or even locate nearby resources).

While these engineers will probably have to adapt their robotic dragonflies to handle both Martian and Titan weather (as they are very different from each other).

Be sure to check out the rest of the entries from the Carnival, and if you desire to submit your post to the next Carnival of Space, feel free to visit Universe Today for details on how to enter.

Note: I should be able to resume posting by tomorrow, although I did enjoy reading many of the blogs from my iPhone. :-)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Jim Benson, Rest In Peace

I was saddened to hear about Jim Benson's passing away recently, who founded SpaceDev (and later on Benson Space which dissolved due to his health situation).

While Jim Benson will be missed by all (mostly his close friends and family), I think its best to remember the man for who he was--a passionate advocate for expanding our species to other worlds.

Click the image below to watch (hat tip: Space Transport News).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks! (Kentucky In Orbit)

This weeks Carnival of Space was hosted by Wayne Hall of the Kentucky Space blog (a site that promotes Kentucky Space, which is a non-profit that helps Universities, businesses and public organizations pool their talent to help launch stuff beyond the sky).

Interesting articles ranged from lunar lessons to laser solar sails to reasons why humanity is on the brink of a golden age (at least as far as space geeks are concerned).

The best post of this carnival however belongs to Brian Wang of Next Big Future who posted about Hyperion nuclear reactors:

(Next Big Future) The Hyperion Power Generation uranium hydride reactor will weigh fifteen to 20 tons, depending on whether you're measuring just the reactor itself or the cask—the container that we ship it in—as well. It was specifically designed to fit on the back of a flatbed truck because most of our customers are not going to have rail. It's about a meter-and-a-half across and about 2 meters tall. It will generate 27-30 Megawatts of electrical power from 70 MW of thermal power. This means 0.5 to 0.75 tons per MWe for the nuclear reactor.

While this small size would benefit many third world countries (especially in Africa), it would also make it a lot easier to establish off world colonies on Mars and beyond (as solar power becomes useless the further out one heads into space).

This technology is being developed by the Hyperion Power Generation company, who is hoping to have this technology ready in 2013 (a little over four years from now as 2008 is coming to a close).

Be sure to visit the rest of the sites mentioned over at the Carnival of Space, and if you would like to see your article mentioned in this weeks carnival, be sure to visit Universe Today for details on how to enter.

Update (10/22): Adjusted text color in blockquote.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Dogs: The Number One (Future) Solar Pet?

(Image Credit: Mzelle Laure via Wikipedia)

Space is big. Its "vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big." It can also be a lonely place as well.

Scientists have been previously warning that long term trips on the Moon (or towards Mars) may place undo psychological burdens on future astronauts, especially if they can not see Earth.

Since launching astronauts with their families may not be an ideal solution (although this would resolve the loneliness factor), it may be wise to include Fido in order to help combat the feelings of isolation off world.

While some countries may look to dogs as their next meal, in the west canines are often regarded "as man's best friend."

So whether you are known to befriend the canine (or are indifferent towards it), here are several reasons why this hairy beast may dominate our solar system (as the number one pet that is).

The Love Factor

Regardless of whether an astronaut is stationed on the outskirts of Callisto or observing the stars from Mars, living hundreds of millions of kilometers away from the home world can easily make one depressed.

A future colonist will probably feel frustrated with their commanders on Earth (for whatever reasons), and may have a similar attitude towards their crew mates--especially if they are confined to live within radiation safe houses for extended periods.

In order to help prevent cabin fever from breaking out off world, allowing dogs to accompany future colonists may be a wise idea, as most canines are known to show enthusiasm around the presence of their owners, which may help them feel appreciated millions of kilometers from home.

Although other animals may purr or even cuddle, dogs will often shout (or rather bark) their praises at seeing their owners again--a feat that somehow does not get old for our canine friends.

Superior Intelligence

(Image Credit: Ang on

Many animals on our planet are known to boast measurable intelligence, but only one species seems to have the discipline to "master" digital technology.

(Suite 101) In a study at the University of Vienna in Austria, dogs used touch screen computers to show that they could categorize photographs. They were trained with treats to select a dog picture over a landscape picture. When they were shown a different set of dog and landscape pictures, they continued to select the dog pictures, demonstrating that they could apply earlier learning to a different situation. Researchers tested further by presenting the dogs with contradictory information to see if they were capable of forming concepts. When shown pictures of an empty landscape and a landscape with a dog, they continued to select the picture with the dog.
While this may seem like a non-factor to pet owners favoring other species, the fact that these canines can be trained to handle technical equipment may make them favorable pets when compared to their feline friends (and perhaps even pigs).

Safety And Security

(Image Credit: Kjetil via Wikipedia)

It does not matter whether one establishes large colonies upon Jupiter's Ganymede or on the Sun baked world of Mercury, crime (however small) will always be a factor when establishing outposts on another world.

Since its likely that most colonies will probably reside within biodomes (assuming they are not underground altogether), which means using weapons slinging projectiles (i.e. guns) may not be a good idea, as punching too many holes in the walls could endanger the entire colony.

Even though one could always train the future colony's security force in martial arts, it may be easier to use canines to help enforce the law.

Often seen  as a major deterrent against crime, dogs can help off world security forces control raging crowds (in case the settlers ever decide to riot), as well as headbutt potential criminals (in order to avoid severely injuring the would be offender).

The Nose Knows

(Image Credit: Paul167 via Wikipedia)

Although a few worlds like Callisto and Titan may provide offer some relief from space radiation (from our Sun as well as beyond), many outposts will probably have to create portable magnetic shields to protect themselves above ground.

While artificial magnetic fields may enable us to survive off world, it may not provide full protection for future settlers which means that cancer rates on more radioactive worlds will probably be a lot higher than on Earth.

Since importing cancer detecting equipment to every facility (on every moon, planet and asteroid) may be extremely expensive, it may be easier to train (and deploy) dogs to sniff out the cancer instead.

(Nation Geographic) "Our study provides compelling evidence that cancers hidden beneath the skin can be detected simply by [dogs] examining the odors of a person's breath," said Michael McCulloch, who led the research. [...]

"Cancer cells emit different metabolic waste products than normal cells," Broffman said. "The differences between these metabolic products are so great that they can be detected by a dog's keen sense of smell, even in the early stages of disease." [said Nicholas Broffman, executive director of the Pine Street Foundation.] [...]

By scent alone, the canines identified 55 lung and 31 breast cancer patients from those of 83 healthy humans.

The results of the study showed that the dogs could detect breast cancer and lung cancer between 88 and 97 percent of the time.
Using dogs to identify cancer within patients early can go a long ways to helping future doctors treat the disease and hopefully cure it as well.


While it would be silly to suggest that other species on Earth would not ultimately find themselves exported off world across the solar system (like pigs), the future may see the canine family accompany humanity not only throughout the outer reaches of our solar system, but perhaps into the next star system as well.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Electrical Shocks May Keep Muscles Strong In Micro Gravity

(Hat Tip: IsraGood, Image Credit: StimuHeal)

One of the major hurdles keeping humanity away from conquering the final frontier is gravity.

Without the constant pull from Earth (or another orbital body) our bones and muscles tend to deteriorate over time, which means that humanity will either have to construct large gravitational space stations (if in space), ingest special drugs (despite the side effects) or wear heavy gravity suits (if living on a less massive worlds like Callisto or Titan).

Now it looks like a much easier (and lighter) solution may be available as future colonists could simply wear a suit full of "electric shocks."

(Israel 21st Century) An Israeli company believes it has the ultimate solution to keep your muscles strong, even when you are immobilized, and your bones broken. The six-year-old company StimuHeal has invented an electrical stimulation device - the MyoSpare - that sits under your cast, stimulating your muscles to stay strong, even when your biggest workout is switching the channels on the remote control. [...]

Using existing equipment on the market, StimuHeal identified the technical and clinical limitations of activating the muscles underneath casts using Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES), a well-recognized tool in the American healthcare system.

If electrodes were to be inserted under the cast, the company recognized, prolonged sweating would be a problem. They also had to develop the perfect stimulation regime so the lactic acid and CO2 wouldn't build up in the muscles, causing pain and discomfort. StimuHeal solved this by developing a microprocessor that calculates a cycle for the muscles to rest.

If this technology could be perfected, then future colonists would be able to not only thrive upon smaller worlds (with weaker gravity), but also be able to survive long journeys aboard star ships without the need for orbital mechanics.

While a practical solution still needs to be developed for bones, its good to see a potential one exist for the many muscles that make up the human body.

Awesome: Japan May Commit $10 Billion Towards Space Elevator

(Hat Tip: Space Travel)

With both the US and China relying upon rockets to secure their solar future beyond the heavens, it looks as if the nation of the rising sun is placing its bets on the space elevator.

(RIA Novosti) Japanese engineers intend to build an elevator to deliver cargo into space. Japanese authorities are prepared to allocate $10 billion for the project.

The space elevator is expected to cut the cost of delivering cargo into space and is considered one of the most ambitious projects of the 21st century. The Japanese plan to unveil a schedule for the elevator's assembly and commissioning this November.

While the space elevator has its share of engineering problems, its successful construction would pretty much guarentee Japan's space dominance over its rivals, as Japan would be able to launch cargo at much lower prices than either China or the US could via rockets.

A space elevator would enable Japan to establish large colonies fairly quickly on both the Moon and Mars--not to mention help the nation generate billions of Yen by renting it out to half the planet.

Note: The first Japanese Space Elevator conference is coming up, so be sure to check out the Space Elevator Blog for highlights from Tokyo!

India Gearing Up For Human Space Flight

After seeing their Asian rival conduct a space walk, it looks as if the worlds largest democracy is laying down the necessary foundation for sending Indian astronauts beyond the sky by 2015.

(Times of India) India plans to a have a new launch pad to undertake its proposed human space flight (manned mission) programme, ISRO officials said.

A project report on the human space flight is ready and is awaiting final approval from the government, Director of Satish Dawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, M P Dathan said.

Despite being far behind both China and Japan, India is determined to establish their presence beyond the heavens, and is even willing to court the private sector in its attempts at catching up.

Hopefully India will consider extending its ambitions lunar side, as launching men and women into space may not guarantee ones status as a space power.

No Magnetic Field Equals Insane Animals And Humans?

(Hat Tip: Space Travel, Image via

Often thought as the best way to keep radiation from "soaking the bones," it looks as if portable magnetic fields may not only help keep us radiation free, but sane as well.

(RIA Novosti) The scientists constructed a special unit where the terrestrial magnetic field was reduced to a little as one-thousandth of its usual strength. Twelve rats were put into the "magnet-free chamber" for 25 days, and then for another 10 days, while another 12 rats remained in normal conditions.

Both groups were monitored 24 hours a day. Krivova said the first thing researchers observed was increased aggression among rats living under the reduced magnetic field. [...]

The rats were also observed to have memory failures. The group experiencing a small magnetic field forgot their surroundings and began inspecting the already known environment once again.
Even though humans may be able to "train themselves" to deal with lower levels of magnetism (or none at all), our animal friends may be unable to cope with the loss (not to mention the insanity).

Unless our species can find some way of creating global magnetic fields, our options of conquering the solar system en masse will be severely limited towards Mercury and Ganymede (not to mention a few "safe" regions of both Mars and the Moon).

(Belated) NASA: Moon Base Before Mars (Plus A Beta Test)

To the sorrow of Martian fans everywhere (especially Robert Zubrin, founder of the Mars Society) it looks as if NASA is focused on dirtying their boots again with white dust rather than red.

( NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin defended his agency's determination to establish a lunar colony before embarking on a manned Mars mission Sept. 30, arguing that those who prefer to focus only on Mars are overestimating what is known about the Moon and underestimating the difficulties of going to Mars. [...]

Griffin said that before any attempt to send a crew to Mars is made, the sponsoring agency or agencies must at least be able to conduct the following mission: Send astronauts to the international space station for a six- or nine-month visit, after which they would be sent to the Moon for a similar amount of time, equipped with no additional supplies beyond those sent with them to the station.

Once they completed their Moon visit, this same group of astronauts would return directly to the space station for another six- to nine-month visit, again with no resupply.

A Mars before Moon plan would probably be considered insane at best, especially since we have yet to figure out a way to survive longterm without multiple "refreshments" from Earth.

Establishing a Moon base first will at least secure our presence off world, just in case the political winds of Congress turn against space in general (as a human mission towards Mars has less favor than the Moon).

It would also allow us to do a mini simulation to see whether we can survive independently from Earth (at least for a season).

While NASA's new focus may throw "a monkey wrench" in a direct Mars mission, it ironically lines up with Buzz Aldrin's road map, which specifically mentions revisiting the Moon before conquer the red deserts of Mars.

NASA To Embrace NewSpace Over Russia

(Hat Tip: Space Transport News)

After President Bush signed the Soyuz waiver allowing NASA to rely on Russia to transport astronauts to the International Space Station, it looks as if the space agency is seriously considering courting the private sector (aka NewSpace) at Russia's expense.

( NASA has no intention of paying Russia to help deliver supplies to the international space station (ISS) beyond 2011 despite winning congressional and presidential approval to do so.

"NASA's policy has not changed," NASA spokesman David Steitz said Oct. 2. "NASA will rely on U.S. commercial cargo services to resupply ISS following retirement of the shuttle, and does not intend to purchase Progress cargo services after 2011."
NASA probably decided to change its tune after SpaceX's successful launch of their Falcon rocket.

Even though SpaceX is still 1 in 4 (as their first three rockets failed), the US government is probably more willing to risk their future on an upcoming space company rather than a proven, yet potentially dangerous space power.

Note: Russia will probably not enjoy losing a large customer such as NASA, and this latest move may help forge an alliance between the former USSR and China (who recently completed their first space walk).

Carnival Of The Space Geeks! (Alice In Spaceland)

Last weeks Carnival of Space was hosted by Alice Enevoldsen who blogs over at Alice's Astro Info.

Their were a variety of posts ranging from volcanoes on Venus to funky NASA logos to even a sad look at the dying Phoenix lander on Mars (note: you will be missed).

Articles of interest (that caught my eye) included:

Thanks for reading, and be sure to read the rest of the articles from the Carnival of Space. For those interested in having your solar thoughts broad casted during this weeks upcoming round, please see Universe Today for more details.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

China To World: Let Us Instruct You On The Art Of Space

Right after successfully completing a spacewalk, it looks as if the Asian giant is now offering "lessons" to interested countries seeking to train their own citizens to be astronauts.

(International Herald Tribune) Having launched consecutive successful manned space missions, China now hopes train astronauts for other nations, the head of the Chinese astronaut training program was quoted as saying on Thursday. [...]

"It was one of the center's goals to train international astronauts in future," Chen said.

Although China has largely gone it alone in developing its manned space program, Chen said international cooperation was an "inevitable trend in manned space flight" due to the expense and complex technology involved.

This is probably a wise move by China, who after conducting their anti-satellite test found itself with very few allies on planet Earth.

China has already cultivated deep relationships with many African nations (note: although how beneficial they are is subject to debate), and it would not be surprising to see them establish trade agreements enabling them to liftoff from launch friendly regions of the continent.

Either way this is yet another sign of China's attempt to influence current (and future) space culture--an item that may not thrill US politicians.

Update (10/2): Inserted missing link.