Wait... that looks awfully familiar.

Chinese Starship

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, SpaceX must be very pleased with the Chinese space program.

Wang Xiaojun, president of the nation’s Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), gave a presentation earlier this month showing off a concept for a two-stage methane-liquid launch system that looked suspiciously familiar, as SpaceNews pointed out.

To wit, the images used in the slides bear a striking resemblance to SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft. In all fairness, though, there are differences as well. CALT’s launch system is designed to carry around 20 tons to low-Earth orbit, while SpaceX’s mammoth spacecraft aims at carrying a whopping 100 tons. There also appear to be differences in how the engines generate thrust, as SpaceNews points out.

Mars Express

In short, there’s a very good chance CALT took some convenient shortcuts to show off a very early rendition of its planned methane-LOX launch system. And it’s just as likely its design language will change over time.

Case in point: postgraduate students from CALT also showed off a “Mars Express” heavy launch vehicle capable of reaching the Martian surface. A rather rudimentary animation shows a spacecraft that doesn’t look anything like SpaceX’s Starship, at least beyond being vaguely long and pointy.

The academy’s plans also represent a renewed focus on reusability and affordability, a goal that more space programs are starting to embrace beyond SpaceX and NASA.

SpaceX has been a pioneer when it comes to recovering and reusing rocket stages, particularly when it comes to its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket.

Now more countries are looking to follow suit, including Europe’s ArianeGroup, which announced a reusable mini-launcher last year.

Russia’s space corporation Roscosmos also showed off designs for a reusable rocket dubbed Amur in July 2020 that looked like a much clearer copy-paste job, this time of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but they should really aim for full reusability by 2026,” Musk tweeted at the time.

READ MORE: Starship lookalike among China’s new human spaceflight concepts [SpaceNews]

More on Starship: Billionaire Says He’s Buying SpaceX Launches for “Private Space Program”


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