Space company iSpace has become the first private Chinese firm to successfully place satellites in orbit.
iSpace – official name Beijing Interstellar Glory Space Technology – launched the Hyperbola-1 rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre on Thursday carrying an amateur radio satellite, a technology verification payload for China Central Television plus some smaller payloads.
These were successfully placed into a 300-kilometre orbit.
iSpace’s success follows failures by Chinese companies OneSpace in March and LandSpace last October.
The OneSpace OS-M1 four-stage rocket failed shortly after launch, with amateur vision of the launch showing control was lost about a minute after blast-off.
The LandSpace three-stage Zhuque-1 rocket blasted off but an unspecified issue with the third stage left it short of orbit and it ended up in the Indian Ocean.
The Hyperbola-1 comprised three solid fuel stages with a liquid propellant fourth stage and an all up take-off weight around 31 tonnes.
Despite its recent checkered launch history, China is emerging as a very serious player in the private launch sector.
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 which 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.
iSpace reportedly received more than US$100 million from a number of investment firms and tech companies.
So, who’s likely to launch on Chinese private sector rockets?
Leena Pivovarova, analyst with US consulting firm Northern Sky Research, told US space website SpaceNews that current regulations restricted launches to domestic customers and some emerging space countries.
“Long term, China will have to somehow expand into other markets to survive,” she said.
More private launches will surely follow iSpace’s success, with a large number of Chinese new space start-ups developing their own launch vehicles.
LandSpace has conducted a successful test of its methane-oxygen powered engines, with four of these to power a rocket planned for test launch next year. That launcher would be able to deliver a four-tonne payload to low-Earth orbit.
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