Tuesday, December 24, 2013

It's Christmas Eve, babe

And, once again, I hope none of you, Dear Readers of the Blog, are in the drunk tank.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all, whether you're dashing through the smog of China or frolicking in a the wintry wasteland wonderland of the Midwest or basking in California sunshine... and of course anywhere in between.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Beijing, the Jade Rabbit has landed

It's been a while since Earthlings have sent something to the Moon that hasn't had a hard landing. But over the weekend, China's Yutu rover (Yutu meaning "Jade Rabbit" in Mandarin) set down in the Bay of Rainbows, and did so without making a crater. Here's a CCTV video of it rolling onto the moonscape:

This is, to paraphrase Neil Armstrong, a fairly significant step for the Chinese space program. It takes a lot of technical know-how and organization to pull something like this off. You need a reliable booster--something that China hasn't always had--to go with all the components on top, which need to work nearly perfectly in a harsh environment. And that's not even counting all the calculations needed to get the thing to hit the Moon from the Earth, both of which are moving in relation to each other and to the Sun. (The more cynical, and I mean possessing weapons-grade cynicism, might suggest a Chinese remake of "Capricorn One.")

It appears that the Yutu can do some legitimate science; among other things, it carries ground-penetrating radar that could offer useful insights into the moon's composition. And that's something that everyone should be happy about.

But there are also some concerns about the end game for China. For one thing, the official announcement said "We finally have the right to share the resources on the moon with developed countries." Which isn't exactly starting a war, but it's not coming in peace for all mankind either. For another, the space program closely is intertwined with the military--something that is true in many countries, but especially so in China.

I don't think China has nefarious plans for the Moon, or, at this point, the ability to pull them off. It just sent its first astronaut into space in 2003. But this achievement clearly shows that the China's technical abilities are making strides even as--and perhaps because--space is more accessible now than at any point in history.

How it all shakes out remains to be seen. But perhaps if nothing else it will remind the world that space exploration is, and should be, inspiring.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My name is China and I'm here to say/I love infrastructure spending in a major way

My name is China and I'm here to say/I love infrastructure spending in a major way

As you know, Dear Readers of the Blog, I manage business-news-things at a major news organization in That City What Got Blowed Up in "Pacific Rim." And I felt like you deserved a quick post here to help you understand some of the major macroeconomic trends--and their consequences--of mainland China in the 20th century.

Wait, what's that? You find these things boring and don't want to discuss them? Fine. I'll let Loawai Style drop some knowledge on you.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Another day, another classified aircraft

Aviation Week is on some kind of a roll here. First they got the scoop on the SR-72, the so-called Son of Blackbird that Lockheed-Martin sees as the Next Big Thing in hypersonic reconnaissance.

Then they blow the lid off the Northrop Grumman RQ-180, which doesn't have a cool name yet but makes up for it by looking awesome... at least in an artist's conception.

Cranked-kite wings. Hey, "Cranked Kite" would be a great band name.

According to the reporting by Bill Sweetman and Amy Butler, the design has been in the works for years, with the goal of replacing and outperforming the RQ-170 Sentinel--aka the Beast of Kandahar--and RQ-4 Global Hawk. That implies a long-range, extremely stealthy aircraft that can potentially stay in the air for more than a day.

The RQ-180 reportedly has a wingspan of about 130 feet, or slightly larger than that of a Boeing 737. That means, most likely, it is designed to operate at high altitudes, much like a U-2 spy plane.

And of course, no one spends billions on a program like this without a clear use in mind. The range and especially the stealth show that this is not designed to operate in a place like, say, Afghanistan, which has no serious air defenses. No, the RQ-180 seems to be after bigger game. North Korea? Iran? Even China? Like its relative the RQ-170, a tour of Asia is almost certainly on the agenda.