The SQX-1 Y1 solid-propellant carrier rocket blasts off from a launchpad located in rocky terrain at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, July 25, 2019. (Photo/chinadaily.com.cn)
A private Chinese company used its own carrier rocket to send two satellites and several experimental payloads into space on Thursday, marking the first successful orbital mission by the country's commercial space industry.
The SQX-1 Y1 solid-propellant carrier rocket, the first in the SQX-1 series, blasted off at 1:00 pm (exact time to be filled later) from a launchpad located in rocky terrain at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert.
Nearly 15 minutes after the ignition, the 25-meter-tall rocket successfully deployed two satellites — one from the State-owned defense conglomerate, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, and the other from the Beijing Institute of Technology — into a low-Earth orbit about 300 kilometers above the ground.
Carrying the high hopes of China's private space sector, the mission's success is considered a landmark achievement by industry observers. It demonstrated that after previous failed attempts, a private company in China is now capable of conducting an orbital launch, a requirement for any serious newcomer in the space industry.
Developed and produced by i-Space, a Beijing-based space startup founded by a group of Chinese rocket researchers previously working for State-owned enterprises, the three-stage SQX-1 is mainly propelled by solid fuel. It has a liftoff weight of 42 metric tons and a diameter of 1.4 m.
The rocket's launch capacity allows it to transport satellites with a total weight of 500 kilograms into a sun-synchronous orbit 500 km above the Earth, according to the company.
Designers at i-Space described the SQX-1 as the most powerful carrier rocket ever built by a private company in China.
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, all based in Beijing, have been sparing no effort to develop their own carrier rockets. Currently, those are mainly made by major State-owned space enterprises. Carrier rockets are in short supply because of surging demand for launch services from the country's flourishing satellite industry.
Executives at the private companies are aware that becoming the first to launch a carrier rocket into orbit would win not only plaudits but also lucrative contracts.
Two previous attempts at orbital launches by LandSpace and One-Space failed.
Yao Bowen, spokesman for i-Space, said Thursday's launch indicated that his company was now ready to become involved in the commercial launch business.
He said i-Space will carry out five SQX-1 launches for clients before the end of 2020, adding the company's second type of carrier rocket — the SQX-2 reusable liquid-propellant rocket — is under development and scheduled to make its maiden launch in 2021.
By the end of last year, 123 private enterprises on the Chinese mainland had registered in the space industry, with 14 of them focused on rocket development and production, according to a market report published recently by FutureAerospace, a space industry consultancy in Beijing.