Monday, May 21, 2018

The First Chinese "Private Space Company" Has Launched its First Suborbital Rocket

          By Brian Orlotti

Beijing-based OneSpace Technologies has launched a suborbital rocket from northwestern China, becoming the first private Chinese space firm to do so. While OneSpace’s claims to being a private firm are debatable, they are the vanguard of a slew of new Chinese space firms eager to stake their claim to the opening space market.

As outlined in the May 17th, 2018 Reuters post, "China launches first rocket designed by a private company," the rocket, dubbed the “Chongqing Liangjiang Star,” reached a reported altitude of 25 miles and travelled about 170 miles before falling back to Earth.

It is powered by a solid fuel engine developed by OneSpace and its control systems are customizable to users’ needs, the company’s chairman, Ma Chao, told Chinese state news agency Xinhua. The craft, also known as the OS-XO, can place a 100 kg payload into an 800 km Earth orbit.

According to the May 17th, 2018 Xinhua post, "China launches rocket developed by private company," the rocket is energy-efficient by using wireless rather than wired networking to link onboard systems, cutting weight and thus lowering fuel costs by about 30%.

The launch is the first step towards the company’s goal of a scalable business focused on launching small satellites into orbit. OneSpace is aiming for 10 satellite launches in 2019, company founder Shu Chang told the official newspaper China Daily.  “I hope we can become one of the biggest small-satellite launchers in the world,” Shu said.

In a May 17th, 2018 CNN interview under the title, "OneSpace launches China's first private rocket," Shu compared his company to Hawthorne, CA based rocket pioneer SpaceX. Other media outlets have drawn the same comparison, but a fairer comment would be that OneSpace (like SpaceX) inhabits the grey area between private and government-run.

According to CNN, Shu Chang is a former employee of a “state-owned aerospace company.”

OneSpace, as outlined in the May 17th, 2018 Quartz post, "A Chinese firm says it launched the country’s first privately built rocket," was reportedly founded with money from the State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, and this particular flight was financed by China’s state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation.

The rocket’s very name, “Chongqing Liangjiang Star,” is a nod to the state-run Chongqing Liangjiang Aviation Industry Investment Group, which OneSpace is partnering with to build a research and manufacturing base that will become part of the Chinese government’s massive Belt and Road initiative.

OneSpace’s rocket, in its current form, has marked disadvantages over SpaceX’s Falcon rockets. It stands at just 30 feet tall and can only carry a 220 pound payload, far below the 230 ft tall and 50,000 pound capacity of the Falcon 9.

OneSpace also uses a solid-fuel engine, which, though generally more stable and simple to build, prevents reuse of the rocket---unlike SpaceX craft.

It is important to note, however, that similar criticisms were hurled at SpaceX in its early years, yet the company was able to overcome the naysayers. Shu Chang has stated that OneSpace will eventually build larger rockets with greater payload capacity and intends to serve both commercial and govt customers, like SpaceX.

However, OneSpace faces significant hurdles in building an international clientele, particularly in the US.

Existing US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), as well as the US Congress’ prohibitions on NASA and other government entities from cooperating with China currently lock OneSpace out of the lucrative US market. Yet OneSpace may be able to build up a sizeable customer base in Asia, Europe and elsewhere in addition to government contract work.

Murky though its origins may be, OneSpace’s entry into the commercial spaceflight industry is no bad thing. Keeping competitors on each other’s toes is a spur that drives progress forward.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Support our Patreon Page