Chinese space firm plans first private satellite launch

Chinese space firm plans first private satellite launch

Max Blenkin

As the international space race continues to gather pace, a Chinese space firm is planning a launch for next month, which would make it the first private company in China to place a satellite in orbit.

Beijing Interstellar Glory Space Technology, better known as i-Space, plans to from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi desert using its Hyperbola-1 four-stage rocket.

I-Space has successfully conducted two sub-orbital launches using its single stage Hyperbola-1S rockets. Hyperbola 1 is designed to lift a 300-kilogram payload into low-Earth orbit.

On the drawing board is Hyperbola-3, a reusable launch vehicle able to place a two-tonne payload in low-Earth orbit by 2021. Two earlier attempts by private Chinese firms to place satellites in orbit have failed.

Last October, a rocket launched by the company Landspace lost attitude and fell into the Indian Ocean. In March, a rocket launched by OneSpace went out of control not long after launch and fell back to Earth.

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Previously, all launch activities in China have been conducted by the Chinese state and military. In 2014, the Chinese government changed policy on space and start-ups began emerging, helped by policies that allow transfer of restricted technologies to approved companies to promote innovation.

That launched a blizzard of new space start-ups, among them StarCraft Glory, Blue Arrow Space, Zero Space, Hacker Space, Deep Blue Space and Star Way Exploration. The area of Bejing where many have their offices has been dubbed Rocket Street.

 

Along with the technology transfer from the military and public sector, approved Chinese space firms don’t appear to be struggling for funds. I-Space reportedly received more than US$100 million from a number of investment firms and tech companies.

A successful launch by a private Chinese company could open the floodgates of cheap and routine satellite launches, although there appears to be much work ahead in developing China’s private space sector.

I-Space was founded in Beijing in 2016. In an interview with the online Chinese newspaper thepaper.cn, i-Space vice president Huo Jia said Chinese private space companies would be in orbit much faster than companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

He noted that launch continued to be the bottleneck of the space business.

"Why is the rocket the most valuable in the aerospace industry chain? Because in the global space economy industry chain, the bottleneck is in the ring of rocket launching,” he said.

“The launching capability of the launch vehicle is seriously insufficient. The countries that can launch the rocket into the orbit are not more than 10. The number of private enterprises that can make the rocket into the orbit in the world is also a single digit. The domestic private enterprises are not currently in the orbit."

While China has a mature rocket capability, its satellite capability isn’t as well established, noted Huo Liang, chief executive of rocket company Beijing Deep Blue.

“The key is that the satellite downstream application market has not been developed, so the satellite launch demand is not much,” he said in the interview in thepaper.cn.

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