Private Chinese firms launching compact rockets, satellites
Startups as well as SOEs are putting more small, cost-effective satellites into orbit
Beijing-based aerospace startup LandSpace has joined a number of private Chinese companies getting into the business of launching rockets and satellites into space.
The Chinese government lifted a ban on aerospace and launch industries in 2014 and has been encouraging public-private partnerships and projects by private investors.
LandSpace completed the final assembly of a solid-propellant rocket, the Zhuque, in Xian, making headway toward a launch in the last quarter of the year into sun-synchronous orbit, the company said this week.
The proprietary three-stage solid-propellant rocket measures 19 meters in height with a 1.35-meter diameter and a takeoff mass of 27 metric tons.
The company claimed that the Zhuque would remain in orbit for two years, carrying a small satellite sponsored by state broadcaster China Central Television for its thematic variety show on space science and remote sensing.
Reportedly the Zhuque rocket features integrated design of prefabricated modules to trim weight and fuel consumption, thus costing just a fraction of traditional carrier rockets that are usually made up of tens of thousands of separate parts.
Last month the company said it had finalized its design for a rocket powered by methane and liquid oxygen as the second generation of the Zhuque series, with an experimental launch expected in 2020.
LandSpace’s business model of small, nimble, cost-effective rockets for small and nano satellites may offer alternatives for government procurement, such as orders from local authorities that want specialized, compact satellites to relay signals of local TV stations or monitor illegal structures sprouting up in urban areas.
In May, another aerospace contractor, OneSpace, based in Beijing and Chongqing, launched a privately designed miniaturized test rocket that shot a satellite, commissioned by a subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corporation of China, from a launch pad in Inner Mongolia into sub-orbit.
The 9-meter-high, 7,200-kilogram rocket was capable of reaching an altitude of 38.7 kilometers above the ground at a maximum speed of 5.7 times the speed of sound.
Established in 2015 in Beijing, OneSpace has reportedly received three rounds of investment totaling 500 million yuan (US$73 million).
Yet another private Chinese company, Space Honor, launched a solid-propellant rocket from Hainan province to a height of 108km in April.
State-owned behemoths like China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp are also jumping on the bandwagon to catapult small commercial satellites atop its light-lift Long March-11 rockets from the open sea for low-latitude shipborne launches.