Battle for lucrative market heats up as companies create reusable boosters
Several Chinese commercial space companies are competing to become the first non-State player to successfully launch a carrier rocket into orbit.
The next attempt will be made by Beijing-based startup i-Space, which plans to conduct its first orbital mission next month, a source in the company who asked not to be named said on Sunday.
The i-Space SQX-1 rocket is scheduled to blast off at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert in early June. If the mission succeeds, the rocket will carry three small satellites and four experimental equipment into space, he said. It is the largest and most powerful rocket ever built by a private Chinese space company, he said.
The SQX-1 has a diameter of 1.4 meters, a length of 21 meters and a liftoff weight of 31 metric tons. Fueled by solid propellant, it is able to transport satellites with a combined weight of 300 kilograms into a low-Earth orbit, or 100 kg of satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit.
Meanwhile, i-Space has begun to design the SQX-2, a liquid-propellant type of rocket that will be reusable, the source added.
Private companies are eager to seize business opportunities in the nation's burgeoning commercial space launch market.
Leading private rocket-makers in China－i-Space, LandSpace and OneSpace－have been sparing no effort to develop their own carrier rockets. Currently, those are mainly made by State-owned space giants. Carrier rockets are in short supply because of surging demand for launch services from the country's flourishing satellite industry.
Executives at these firms are aware that becoming the first private company to launch a carrier rocket into orbit will bring not only honor but also lucrative contracts.
Previous attempts at orbital launches by LandSpace and One-Space failed in flight.
Wang Yanan, editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, said that it's only a matter of time before private players accomplish orbital launches, because they are growing stronger in their research and development capabilities. Their existence has diversified the market in China and has proved good for the country's space industry, he added.
"The participation of private firms will substantially reduce the launch cost and help boost the commercialization of the entire space industry," said Wu Zhijian, director-general of the China Space Foundation.
He said private players with creativity and technology are crucial to achieving the nation's goal of becoming a strong space power.
As of the end of last year, a total of 123 private enterprises on the Chinese mainland had registered in the space industry, and 14 of those were focused on rocket development and production, according to a market report published last week by FutureAerospace, a privately owned space consultancy in Beijing.