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I’m not sure if it's better to ask this here or on worldbuilding.se

Which countries except Russia/China/US can launch their own crew into space and return them unharmed (if for some reason this really becomes necessary to do and has to happen quickly) and how long would it take?

Assuming that Mercury/Vostok-1 level is enough, money is not important and the country really wants it done. Also, crew loss could be tolerated if it's a one time thing. Reusing something which is not human-rated could be used as long as it can get the job done.

It should be done without direct help from Russia/China/US (so the country must make its own rocket and ship) but it's ok to use "previous" experience with shared space programs.

Clarifications:

  • suborbital hop doesn't count.
  • "short notice" - let's say "up to year".
  • low earth orbit is enough.
  • private companies counts as country X if country X agrees and said company could do everything in this country with personeel from it's country. So Space X is USA (even if Musk decided to move HQ to Nauru). Rocket Lab is likely NZ.
  • EU could be seen as "country" for purposes of this question (There is European Parliament after all and different countries could realy contribute).
  • MOOSE-style thing could be borderline ok if it's possible to launch pilot with it. There is launch acceleration after all.
  • Single orbit is enough. Crew must be consciousness whole flight and must return alive. Ship itself must also return whole (for some definition of "ship" and "whole"). It's not necessary to land in ship (so Gagarin-style land where crew lands on their own parachute is enough).
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    $\begingroup$ Mercury is essentially human beings in a ICBM warhead. In theory the 5+2+2+1 (5 nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, Iran and North Korea, Japan) all have the potential of human space flight. $\endgroup$ Oct 5, 2023 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ North Korea as well? $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 5, 2023 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "short notice?" US, USSR, and China can't put a human into space on what I'd call short notice. $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2023 at 2:00
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    $\begingroup$ And also New Zealand. Actually I think that's in the first answer. But basically even electron, with an extra boost stage, could theoretically put a short-duration manned capsule into LEO. $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2023 at 5:41
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    $\begingroup$ @user3528438 You're saying nuclear powers when you mean ICBM countries. Consider France, they never had ICBMs, only IRBMs, and those were decommissioned in 1996. France and UK now only have SLBMs. In fact, UK never designed any ballistic missiles, they bought them from the US. Further, a ICBM itself usually needs additional stages to put a payload into orbit, Orbital added 1-2 to the Peacekeeper and 1 to the Minuteman II for those to reach orbit, so you need that technology. Those stages tend to add significant height, which is a problem with the SLBMs. $\endgroup$
    – user71659
    Oct 6, 2023 at 19:12

1 Answer 1

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Definitely India. They plan to launch a man to orbit no earlier than next year. Followed, perhaps, by Italy/ESA. It's uncertain after that point, I would say Japan, Iran, or depending on the fate of RocketLab, NZ.

It is unlikely anyone could get a man into space within a year without an already-functioning space transport system. India is about 14 months away, assuming no further schedule slips. It takes more than 6 months for existing space capsules to be prepared for launch - see Inspiration 4. (And that was SpaceX!)

The bulk of this post is looking into Launch vehicles. A space capsule is at least as hard as the rocket itself, so this is only half the picture. However, some countries have experience with spacecraft but not as much with rockets; particularly Italy/ESA - UK & France/ESA - Canada, in roughly that order. If you were considering multinational teams, there might be some good pairings. But I don't keep track of space capsules as closely as launch vehicles.


Countries not on your list of exclusions, with orbital-class rockets, who have looked into indigenous manned launch capabilities:

India: Has an unusually successful space program, and are actively working on a manned space capsule. They are planning an initial manned launch of Gaganyaan next year.

Europe: Have a very well-established space program, but have recently been moving very slowly. Have looked into manned spaceflight in the past (Hermes in particular), and are looking into it again, but no real progress toward it as of yet (SUISE and Nyx are two to keep an eye on). Adapting SpaceRider's 600kg payload for manned flights - on Vega (Italian) - is likely the 'quickest' option, but a solution launched on Ariane 6 (French) is a better long-term solution.

Japan: A high-quality space program, but hampered by their semi-artificially limited launch numbers. Have looked into manned space systems in the past, but would take some time to bring one into operation if needed. An iteration on the Fuji capsule would be a good start (design for simplicity and low cost).

Iran: Of their surprisingly diverse array of orbital rockets, only Simorgh SLV has the payload to launch a person - barely. However, the only manned spacecraft proposal light enough to be lofted to orbit with its ~300kg payload is MOOSE. Interestingly though, unlike the Kiwis and Israelis who have similar rockets, the Iranian space agency has advertised that it could launch an astronaut on this rocket. It also has some heavier rockets in development (Soroush) which should be able to launch a more respectable manned vehicle, but their introduction date is uncertain.


Countries not on your list of exclusions, with orbital rockets, who have not (publicly) looked into manned launch capability:

New Zealand: While Rocket Lab is now a US-based company, the Electron was designed and is mostly built in NZ. If the entirety of the USA were to spontaneously lose all ontological inertia, NZ would likely still be able to launch Electron. It is a small rocket though and while technically capable of carrying a manned reentry vehicle (again, see MOOSE), it isn't ideal. Not to mention no studies have been done on this. Rocket Lab has investigated a manned space capsule for Neutron, but that rocket is being built and launched exclusively in the US (Darn ITAR), so it couldn't easily be construed as an NZ launch.

Israel: Shavit-2 launches rarely, but has been around for many decades. It, too, could only launch a MOOSE-class manned reentry vehicle. Also, all Israeli launches necessarily end up in a very retrograde orbit.

N Korea: has a few different types of orbital rocket, but only its most recent and most powerful, Chollima 1 (which has yet to reach orbit) has enough payload for manned flights - and at 300kgs, only barely (yes, MOOSE again).

S Korea: has not had many rockets, but last year succeeded in its first indigenous rocket launch. Nuri has a payload of 1.5t - enough to launch a Mercury capsule with margin to spare.


Others: There are several countries that, if pushed, might be able to develop an orbital launch capability in a reasonable timeframe. The first that spring to mind are the UK - it used to have an orbital rocket, but cancelled it; and Pakistan - they have plenty of experience in missile weapons systems, not too unrelated from rockets. Of these two, I would put the UK ahead in getting a man to space due to its more focussed experience (SSTL, Orbex/Skyrora, UKSA, REL/Skylon, BIS, etc). But at this point, the timescale would be around a decade, not months or years.


After writing this answer, I do feel it is a better fit for worldbuilding.se. Perhaps a migration is in order?

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  • $\begingroup$ I would thought about Worldbuilding. SE. Especially because I omitted reason for it (said reason is in Worldbuilding area). I didn't even thought about New Zealand/Korea(both) or Isreal). How to ask for migration? $\endgroup$
    – Tauri
    Oct 6, 2023 at 4:59
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    $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure Israel could technically launch prograde (and probably gain some extra payload capacity that way, too). They might only be able to do it once, though. :/ $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2023 at 9:16
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    $\begingroup$ I think you re-ordered sections of your answer before posting, and have ended up with "again, MOOSE-class" before any reference to MOOSE. Also a link about MOOSE (or a little bit of an explanation) would probably be helpful, that's really very barely usable, depending on what OP had in mind these people would have to do in space. $\endgroup$
    – jcaron
    Oct 6, 2023 at 10:36
  • $\begingroup$ ditto @jcaron's comment; would be helpful to include a link to MOOSE at first reference (currently, in Iran section; note: seems New Zealand section initially was written as first reference) $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2023 at 18:12
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I did re-order them - I thought it made more sense to put the countries who have announced some kind of HSF capability first, instead of the countries who launched more often first. $\endgroup$ Oct 8, 2023 at 20:47

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